Published: April 11, 2017
Review and Photos by Helaine Fendelman
PARMA, ITALY – If you are an antiques buff, a number of shows and markets tout themselves as the “largest show,” but in Parma’s exhibition center, Mercanteinfiera (loosely translated as “merchants’ fair”), which is staged twice a year and is now in its 23rd year, lives up to its billing as the largest indoor arena selling antiques, collectibles and Modernism.
The show’s most recent edition ran February 25-March 5, attracting 50,000 people over its nine-day run. Essentially a museum spanning styles, genres and centuries but with price tags and educated dealers, the fair is set up in four airplane hanger-sized buildings that left one exhausted yet invigorated. The space is so enormous that a number of dealers had bicycles to wheel around the show.
Aisles are wide; booths are enormous; furniture is gigantic and we saw many items usually not seen in the United States. Large booths were filled to overflowing with “merch!” Tables, chandeliers, mirrors, chairs overflowed outside multiple doors, basking in the sun or fog waiting for a new buyer.
Goods for sale ranged in age from the Twelfth Century to the present. Entire booths were devoted to items of one type: coral jewelry, punched tin ceiling tiles, copper, brass, enough ivory that you would never know there is a US ban on sales of this material, wicker furniture, porcelain figurines, fur coats, polychrome biscuit tins, linens, collector plates and Bing and Grondahl figurines, and so many bolts of fabric we thought we were at a fabric show. Shabby chic has hit Europe also and the mixing of styles, designs and stock offerings made this show a decorators’ delight. Vintage clothing included Italian designers as well as Hermes, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. One booth was devoted entirely to silverplate with prices starting at $25, with many pieces in boxes and rather than being priced individually, all the pieces in one box were marked with hand lettered signs.
Asian material was in great supply and there were more than an equal number of buyers to match. Three beautifully framed 1930 Japanese gouache landscape drawings on silk were priced at $6,000 for the lot at Vivioli Arte, Genoa, Italy. Roberto Cocozza of Rome offered a pair of Nineteenth Century Japanese-style painted 5-foot-tall urns on original stands from the Piedmonte area for $9,000.
Italian dealers were in abundance here, including La Congrega of Brescia, offering world globes on stands from France, Sweden and Holland ranging in age from the late Nineteenth-mid-Twentieth Centuries while a late Nineteenth Century painted cast iron litter box was on offer at Old House of Naples.
Murano glass in many different forms was in great abundance as expected. Venetian chandeliers were in great supply; we lost count at more than 175, as were marble, bronze, pot metal and wooden sculptures, some quite modern to ancient.
Also plentiful was Modern furniture, such as a pair of 1960s plush yellow velvet armchairs we saw priced at $800. And do the Italians know something we Americans do not? Is oak furniture coming back into vogue? Both American and English rolltop desks were on the floor in a number of booths, priced from $1,000 to $3,000.
Most dealers we met purchased at least one containerful to bring home, and others filled more. A Tupelo, Mich., dealer was only buying religious art and artifacts.
The fair’s fall edition will run September 30-October 8. For more information, http://mercanteinfiera.it.
Helaine Fendelman is a generalist fine and decorative arts appraiser and contributing editor for various national publications. She is based in New York City.
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