Published: February 26, 2008
The Palm Beach International Art and Antiques Fair, on display this year from February 1 to 10, has always desired a place at the table with the best European high-end shows. Its progress toward achieving this goal was demonstrated when a major trade paper abroad gave the show a five-star rating in its annual fair rankings †the only event to share that level with the Maastricht show in Holland.
The quality of the show is enhanced by its perfect location in the well-appointed Palm Beach County Convention Center.
Yet Dr Michael Mezzatesta, now in his second year as director of the fair, continues to “refocus and redefine” its direction, while continuing a strong emphasis on educational programs, rigorous vetting and impeccable show design.
At the gala opening on January 31, he said, “What I’m trying to do here is create a persona for the Palm Beach Fair. It’s not enough to be America’s Maastricht, because Palm Beach is Palm Beach. And America is not Europe †the focus here will be more diverse and more democratic.”
Part of the city’s diversity is its location at the crossroads of North and South America. “It makes sense to stress the richness of the artistic legacy that exists in Latin America,” he continued. “I made a conscious effort to do that over this past year, and some of the things that are happening at the fair are directly related to that effort, most importantly the exhibition from the Hispanic Society of America.”
The free museum and its research library were founded in 1904 by American scholar and philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington (1870‱955). The exhibition on the show floor of 49 masterworks from the New York museum included a cross-section of their holdings from prehistoric pottery to Twentieth Century paintings.
Meanwhile, there was more Hispanic art for purchase on the floor. Mezzatesta said, “I spent a great deal of time in Spain over the past year. and as a result we have seven dealers from Spain.” Furthermore, on the first day of the show, Dr Rafael Romano of Caracas offered a lecture on the distinguished “Cisneros Collection of Late Twentieth Century Latin American Art,” designed to spur other collectors to concentrate on the other half of the western hemisphere.
One of the invited dealers was Laura Codosero of the Galeria de Arte Antiguo, located in the Salamanca art district in Madrid. The firm brought Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Spanish and European earthenware and devotional material, including a medieval alabaster figure of the Virgin for $64,000. It was one of the most moving pieces in the show. Codosero said, “I’m happy to be here and happy to have sold things. It’s wonderful to meet American collectors.” One sale to an American collector was a pair of Eighteenth Century cabinets of cocobolo wood with mother-of-pearl inlay, probably from a Jesuit mission in Bolivia.
Another coup by Mezzatesta was an opening day lecture by Dr Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. Speaking in fluent English, the director addressed the subject of “Deaccession as National Tragedy: Sales from the Hermitage Museum in the 1920s‹30s.” The event drew a standing-room-only crowd of collectors.
Russia was the thread that tied in exhibits and lectures on local legend Marjorie Merriweather Post, who wintered in Palm Beach at her Hispano-Moresque “cottage” Mar-a-Lago. Situated at the tip of the narrow island, the estate †now run as a private club by Donald Trump †lies between the sea and the lake, as the name suggests.
While her third husband was American ambassador to Russia, Post turned from collecting French to buying Russian paintings, furniture and decorative arts when the getting was truly good. Her holdings on display at Hillwood House in Washington, D.C., remains the best assemblage outside of Russia †its loss was her gain †and includes two Faberge imperial Easter eggs.
Another hot market available on the show floor was contemporary Chinese art. Veteran fair exhibitor Michael Goedhuis of New York City and London has been mixing archaeological, antique and modern works for many years †long before the current boom for works by living Chinese artists. At the show this year, he sold a large Chinese watercolor on rice paper by Beijing artist Wang Jianan for $125,000.
Of course, just before Valentine’s Day, the show’s jewelry exhibitors †Harry Winston, Graff, Buccellati, Van Cleef & Arpels †had special appeal for the romantic.
Part of the show’s diversity is the inclusion of several dealers in antiquities, including Numisart of Munich, back for a third year. Oliver Habel explained the fair’s charm: “It’s amazing. The weather is nice, people are in a good mood. The first day we sold two pieces and there is much interest in other big pieces.”
Among the offerings that ended up sold were a Roman marble fragment of Medusa, a Roman bronze statue fragment and an Roman marble relief †all in the mid-five-figure range. Habel showed off one of the stand’s earliest pieces, an Egyptian pre-Dynastic (3000′740 BCE) bowl, carved with simple tools from very hard stone, for $15,000.
Price points are an issue; Mezzatesta is striving to have works that appeal to and are affordable to younger collectors as well as established connoisseurs. A new ticket level for the opening night vernissage was designed to encourage new visitors. The director said, “I want this to be a place that nourishes collectors, especially young collectors.”
Mezzatesta concluded, “You can find works of art at this fair at almost any price range, from several hundred dollars well into the millions. It’s a feast for the eyes and it’s a feast for the mind. Art is not a luxury, art is a necessity. This fair, run under the umbrella of UK publishing and show giant dmg world media, is a magnet that draws people who love art.”
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