Published: March 6, 2007
The 2007 Palm Beach International Fine Art & Antique Fair, February 1‱1, combined the best elements of a top-level museum exhibition with the luscious swish of an exclusive party. As Christine Berry of New York City’s Spanierman Gallery said later, “We had a very good show. You never know who’s going to walk through the door †that’s the beauty of Palm Beach!”
The Palm Beach County Convention Center, constructed not long ago in the heart of a new shopping and arts district in West Palm, is an attractive building with every amenity. The stands of the 97 individual exhibitors were constructed and illuminated to make the best of every object. And the dealers †many of whom come at great expense from abroad †work extremely hard to construct gallery settings that appear to be built for eternity.
Nobody does it better than noted Parisian antiques dealer Bernard Steinitz. The display, fronted by a monumental portrait of Marie Antoinette, looked like the main salon of a very nice chateau. While the father reigned at center, eloquent son Benjamin Steinitz explained why they come all this way and do all this work. “Some years we’ve done well, some years we’ve done nothing. It’s a question of luck, a little bit.
“But first, it’s a question of work because you have to be known, people have to be able to trust you, to know of your reputation. You have to have the goods that people might be interested in. So it’s an accumulation of a few factors.”
Furniture is a little slower to sell than paintings, said Steinitz. “People need to see, to think, to measure, to see if it works in their space or not. And it’s luck in the sense if you meet someone who is building a home and you get along, your relationship is good, you might be lucky to do the whole house.
“We love the region. We love being in America in general. We’re not really holiday people but for us to spend two weeks here, it’s joining the work with the pleasure. I think the show is better than it used to be †it has more and more good dealers.”
While Steinitz is a show veteran, Partridge Fine Arts Ltd of London was in Palm Beach for the first time, yet once again the conversation turned to confirming a firm’s reputation on this side of the Atlantic. After noting that Partridge once had an uptown shop in New York City, Mark Law said, “We have to get out of the gallery and remind people we’re there, get back in touch with our American clients.
“English, European and American clients holiday in this part of the world at this time of year. I think it’s becoming an incredibly creditable fair and a fair we want to be a part of,” he continued. “The standards here are very high, and it’s where we feel we should be. We brought things that we’re immensely proud of, and we’ve been delighted with the reaction so far. As well as hoping to sell things during the course of the show, I hope that it will build relationships with clients here and that when they are in London, they will choose to visit Partridge.”
Then there was the case of Robert and Michelle Bowman of London, sculpture dealers who returned to the event in 2007 after several years absence. Robert attributed the return directly to their friendship with Dr Michael Mezzatesta, just completing his first full year as fair director: “We came back because Michael has been a friend of ours for many years,” he said. “I think he’s the right guy for the job; it just depends if the organizers give him the support and the budget to run with the ball.”
Mezzatesta’s academic background could be seen most strongly in the fair’s strong educational program. The focus on Marie Antoinette with the loan of her portrait by the New Orleans Museum of Art produced several important lectures, including a discussion by Versailles director general Pierre Arizzoli-Clemental of the queen’s furniture and decorative arts at the palace. The following day, the French Heritage Society presented a benefit lecture on Marie Antoinette by Princess Michael of Kent, the proceeds of which will help restore the sculpture garden at the New Orleans Museum.
As expressed in an interview [See related article below], Mezzatesta seemed particularly proud of the variety and time range of offerings presented by the fair’s exhibitors. At one end of the spectrum is a group of dealers in ancient art, with Western cultures represented by firms such as Phoenix Ancient Art and non-Western by dealers such as Chicago’s Douglas Dawson.
At the same time, guidelines for the strictly vetted show were revised at the modern end. Previously, no art made before 1970 was permitted. Now work is permitted by artists born before January 1, 1977. This allowed exhibitors to bring very recent work, such as the John Chamberlain sculptures at Galerie Terminus, Munich, the Howard Morgan paintings at Messum’s, London, and the Rob Wynne glass sculptures at JGM Galerie, Paris. A Chamberlain sculpture, “Squish,” sold for $950,000, and results from recent auctions would indicate that this was a wise decision.
While fine art seemed well represented across the centuries, the fair once had more Twentieth Century furniture and decorative arts and could now use additional exhibitors in the area. The Silver Fund, San Francisco, presented a huge selection of Georg Jensen, and Macklowe Gallery, New York City, offered an impressive lineup of Tiffany glass ceiling and table lighting.
Michael Playford of Two Zero C Applied Art, London, however, was one of the few with a strong selection of furniture of the period. Among the things for sale in the packed booth were a desk chair by Louis Sognot, circa 1930, $10,500, a pair of 1905 side chairs by Carlo Bugatti, $23,750, and a 1930s modernist desk of American walnut, $22,500.
Two dealers who mix Nineteenth Century Biedermeier and European Twentieth Century styles did extremely well. The earlier style received a boost from the traveling exhibition “Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity,” which opened in Vienna at the time of the fair, after a run last year at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Exhibitor Rita Bucheit, Chicago, explained, “The simplicity of this period is absolutely an innovation †to make the furniture with just plain surfaces and geometric neoclassical proportions and to decorate them with just the veneer. I always say that Biedermeier is everyman’s Empire. The classical form is pared down to the minimum, without all the gilding and bronze mounts.”
Bucheit sold more than a dozen pieces of Biedermeier furniture, including a pair of consoles, a standing desk, an important table and chairs, as well as an Art Deco cabinet. As Spanierman’s Berry said, you never know who will appear at Palm Beach †in Bucheit’s case it was well-known New York designer Juan Montoya, ASID, who purchased several pieces.
Andrea Zemel and partner Adam Brown form Iliad Antik, New York City, which mixes Biedermeier, Empire and Art Deco with modern Hungarian and Czech fine art. Zemel said later, “We sold many pieces, including the library table in front at the vernissage and the bookcases in the center of the booth. We had placed almost everything by the end of the fair.” She agreed that the exhibition “elevated the overall understanding of the style. It was very exciting for us.”
Now on their way to Maastricht, London dealers Michael and Ewa Cohen had success with their Chinese Export porcelain. The Cohens specialize in the more spectacular pieces, such as large vases †2 to 4 feet high †decorated fish tanks and massive chargers. “It was an excellent show for us,” said Michael Cohen later. One prize that sold at the show was a large punch or christening bowl, circa 1795, decorated in sepia and grisaille of “Summer” from a set of four seasons engravings by Francesco Bartolozzi, made for the American or European market, priced at $140,000. The couple also sold a rare porcelain monteith enameled in polychrome with peonies, prunus and daisies, circa 1740, once owned by Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, for more than $400,000.
With its stellar roster of superb exhibitors and a new director with excellent credentials, the Palm Beach International Fine Art & Antique Fair, which is owned by dmg world media, has all the elements needed to become an American classic dominating the top of the market. Through more focused publicity, Mezzatesta and his staff should work hard to use these strengths and the sun logo to distinguish this show from competing events and to make the fair more widely known at home and abroad.
For information, www.palmbeachfair.com or 561-209-1300.
Interview: Dr. Michael P. Mezzatesta, Director, Palm Beach International Fine Art & Antique Fair
Although Dr Michael P. Mezzatesta was on hand for the event last year, 2007 marked his first full year of planning and executing the Palm Beach Fair as director. Formerly director of the Duke University Museum of Art and curator of European art at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, he has the art world credentials and connections to ensure the fair’s continuing importance on the international scene. Antiques and The Arts Weekly asked Mezzatesta to provide his perspective on the show.
“Obviously, since I come out of the museum world, I like art. The last two days walking around the booths, I have discovered amazing things. The level of quality is really extraordinary. The stars of this shows are the 97 dealers you’ll find here. They present art from antiquity all the way to the present. You’ll find something here for everyone.
“This year we’re presenting a series of special exhibitions that focus on Marie Antoinette and the New Orleans Museum of Art. We’re trying to reach out and help a cultural institution here in the United States that has suffered severe losses because of the hurricane. Because of its French connection, the Marie Antoinette theme has emerged from the deluge, as it were.
“This fair has been called ‘America’s Maastricht,’ which is very flattering †and a goal in the sense of the level of quality that Maastricht represents, which is stupendous, really. Anyone who went to the last fair in Maastricht knows what I’m talking about.
“However, this fair is not Maastricht †it’s in a sunny portion of the United States in the winter. It’s a place where people can come when it’s snowing and freezing in New York City and Chicago and Ohio and Philadelphia, and look at great art in a relaxed environment. It makes a difference.
“When people come here, they may fly in on their jets on Thursday, and they’re in a much better frame of mind, much more relaxed. I’m not making this up †that’s what the dealers are telling me. Dealers coming from the Winter Antiques Show to Palm Beach say it’s a much different atmosphere, a much better selling environment.
“Where else in the United States is there a fair like this? Where else could you bring together 100 dealers in 100,000 square feet in a community that has the kind of resources and appreciation for art that you find in Palm Beach? You can’t do it in New York City. They tried it at the Javits Center and it didn’t work. Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles? †no.
“The fair really had no logo before, so I had a new logo designed †the sun face with the legend Ars Mundi. That’s meant to reinforce the fact that Palm Beach is a destination you come to; it’s a warm sunny place †hence the sun face †where the arts of the world come together. This fair brings together 5,000 years of art offered by some of the greatest dealers in the world. That commitment to quality is very important.”
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm