Antiques Trade Gazette has reported today about the, as they have it, ‘lukewarm’ performance of the London Frieze art fair. Opening to great fanfare in 2007, it was thought to represent a new type of venue, dedicated to contemporary art and attracting thereby a younger group of punters who might ordinarily shun a traditional fair. Although attendance was good, albeit down from prior years, the sales were more than a bit thin on the ground. Although very few major sales were posted, most of what was sold was in the 4 and 5 figure range.
Wonderfully synchronic, we had a gallery browser in earlier today opining that younger buyers don’t buy high end material of any stripe any longer, and she asked me why I thought that was. I told her frankly that I didn’t really agree with her premise, that, actually, our mix of buyers is, chronologically, pretty much the same as its been since we started in July, 2002- some younger, some older, but none very, very young, and none very, very old. What makes them all the same, though, is the desire to pursue a connoisseurship that propels them toward making a purchase. For Chappell & McCullar, the mix of inventory needs to be something of a constant, as we’ve found given the relationship nature of the business- if we change our look dramatically, we’ll confuse, and lose, our clients. Cutting edge? Perhaps not, but then, what is cutting edge? In the fine and decorative arts, what’s cutting edge today will tomorrow look as dated as tweed upholstery on a sofa. We’ve always said in our business, we want to offer material that’s already established in the art and design canon. Ironically, one of our younger clients reinforced this idea for us when we started out. A gentleman that had survived the dot.com crash, he wanted to make sure that whatever he purchased from us was of a type and quality that, should the cycle repeat itself, he could bail out. He’s an astute fellow and, the result of the debacle of the last several years, he hasn’t had to find any of this out.
Still, this makes an excellent point, and something that the waning fortunes of contemporary art, and the related fairs, makes clear- the canon is time wrought and time tested. It just might be that a fair like the Frieze fair has experienced time passing it by.