Emerging from the shadows of the high-gloss art fairs, events dedicated to antiques and collectible design may be the wave of the future.
“THERE’S A RETURN TO A SORT OF COMFORTABLE, glamorous living – a richness of living,” says Philip Hewat-Jaboor, direct of the Masterpiece fair in London. “People are going back to the comfort of having well thought-out, layered interiors as opposed to white museum spaces.” It’s a sentiment that is increasingly common round the globe, and especially in Europe: the stark white cubes of the 1990s are giving way, at least behind domestic doors, to the harmonious cacophony of rooms that situate art as just one of a myriad of beautiful things. It’s too early to call minimalism dead – though we may be heading that way soon – but it is a trend that is in strong evidence in the proliferation of antique and design fairs that are growing in prominence on the global scene.
Take Hewat-Jaboor’s event, Masterpiece. Debuting in 2010, the fair has dabbled in objects of desire in nearly every form, from antiques and design to art and vintage autos. Growing its audience each year – this summer’s event drew 44,000 visitors, a more than 20% increase on the previous year – it is an event that features introductory items, aimed toward the collectors beginning their journeys, as well as treasures that connoisseurs covet. A wide remit, certainly, from the 153 participating galleries, but as Hong Kong jeweller Wallace Chan says, “the cross-collecting ethos of the fair has started a new trend and facilitated the exchange of ideas and insights in the art world.”
Not quite as eclectic, but larger in scale, PAD is the first of the modern generation of antique and design shows to expand its domain to multiple international locations. Begun by French gallerist Patrick Perrin in Paris in 1996, the ethos was initially defined by the serendipity of a cabinet of curiosities. As the fair became a fixture, antiques and collectible design have taken prominence. The fair began a London edition in 2006, and will hold its first Geneva event, in collaboration with artgenève, from 1 to 4 February 2018.
Yet despite the expansion and the roster of A-list attendees that the PAD fairs attract, they – like the other antique and design fairs – still don’t quite have the outsize prestige of the art world’s premier events. The all-out glamour that surrounds the Art Basels and the Friezes of the global calendar has simply existed in a different sphere – until recently, when one of the Art Basel satellites, Design Miami, started poaching the jet-set clientele. Now an established event along the Art Basel fairs in both Miami and Basel, the event is attracting many of the contemporary design world’s leading galleries and is pushing the more established design fairs to enhance their offerings.
Which is just what TEFAF, the grande dame of fairs, has done. The largest of the major global fairs, it has transformed sleepy Maastricht into a global beacon of good taste for a week each year since 1988. Regularly attracting more than 250 galleries and many tens of thousands of patrons, the fair has been looking to expand its footprint for years, voicing interest in Beijing and America. Finally in the autumn of 2016 it began its first show in New York, followed six months later by its second New York event, a spring exhibition that concentrates on modern design and art (the autumn show is now limited to items from earlier than 1920) So far, the response to the two annual New York events, each with some 90 galleries exhibiting, has been positive – perhaps a little too positive, with some worries by dealers this past February in Maastricht that Americans might forego the flagship event.
One new fair that has no such attendance concerns is NOMAD. Founded earlier this year as a repudiation of the increasingly large fairs, it is a peripatetic, intimate event selling only collectible design. Entry is by invitation only, and some 1,250 people attended the inaugural edition in Monaco in April. Just 13 galleries – from Tokyo to Beirut to London – participated, and there were a series of one-off performances and displays by Rick Owens, the Serpentine Galleries and more. The buzz around the coming fairs (February 2018 in St Moritz and April 2018 back in Monaco) is palpable: it is not only an event for galleries and clients to meet and deepen their relationships, but a social fixture – quite a lot, in fact, like Art Basel and Frieze, but on a more personal scale, and, of course, primarily concerned with design.
And yet, when it comes to the oldest antiques, sometimes the older connoisseurs know best – and the fairs they frequent remain the premier showcases. While TEFAF held it’s first event 30 years ago, both BRAFA in Brussels and the Paris Biennale began a generation earlier in 1956. And they remain potent, with BRAFA maintaining the old-world charm of its origins, contrasting with the Paris Biennale, which has evolved into something more: firstly, it is now, despite the name, an annual event, and secondly, it’s worked in recent years with major names in the design world, from Jacques Grange to the Hermitage Museum, in order to craft unique, immersive experiences that can only be had on-site at the fair. The Biennale’s evolution is further evidence that beauty may really be experiencing a revival – and that the worlds of art and design may not be very far apart after all.
NetJets, The Magazine, 2017