Published: April 17, 2001
Antiques de Luxe:
By Karla Klein Albertson
PALM BEACH, FLA. – As the Florida winter season draws to a close, fair organizers David and Lee Ann Lester can look back with satisfaction on the firm foundation established by the high-end Palm Beach International Art & Antiques Fair and the addition this spring of a mid-range Palm Beach Town & Country Exposition, held March 8 through 13. As is the case with all show producers, the Lesters have learned that not every venture succeeds. Beverly Hills is gone, but they currently present Art Palm Beach and the Dallas International Fair as well as the two shows mentioned above. Talk on the show floor, however, centered on the new America’s International Art & Antiques Fair to be launched in Westchester County, N.Y., which will take them into Haughton territory.
The Palm Beach International Fair seems to have come of age in its fifth year. The show now has its veteran exhibitors on the floor, such as Londoners Michael Goedhuis and Robert Bowman. Art dealer Jacques de la Beraudiere from Paris, who has known David Lester for many years, reflects, “Since the start of this show, we’ve been here; we’ve tried to bring in great dealers to Palm Beach. We did our best, and this has become one of the most prominent art fairs in America. It’s very good for America, it’s very good for the market, it’s very good for everybody. Even when the economy is difficult, when you have top pictures, you can never go wrong; it’s like blue chips.”
Many others are now returning for a second or third year. Typical was Pelham Galleries of London with their handsome room display at a central intersection of the show. In their second year, Frederique Berman commented, “We had an excellent preview – we’re quite satisfied. It’s a very good fair. The clients are good. We like it.”
Third-timers Priestley & Ferraro from London emphasized, “David Lester is a very good organizer.” Exhibitors, in fact, often comment on Lester’s tireless efforts to expand the show in the right directions.
Most impressive was the arrival of several formidable new exhibitors including art dealers Acquavella from New York, the eclectic Axel Vervoordt from Antwerp, and Noortman from the important European fair city of Maastricht in the Netherlands. Robert Noortman volunteered this praise: “I’m impressed – very good dealers, very good quality, very good organization. We’ll come back next year.”
Visiting journalists and interior designers from the United States and abroad, meeting over dinner at Mar-a-Lago, seemed particularly impressed by these heavy hitters. Will Bennett, art sales correspondent in the staff at The Daily Telegraph in London, repeatedly emphasized the quality of the important Twentieth Century paintings being offered for sale.
The opening night benefit at the fair netted $400,000 for the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, an institution still not well known but definitely on the move. The fact that “Palm Beach” is not included in the museum’s name and possible confusion with the Norton Simon in Pasadena, Calif. have contributed to the public’s vagueness about the Norton and its collections. The current $20 million dollar fund-raising campaign will increase the institution’s endowment and allow the Norton to expand to 104,000 square feet, making it the largest art museum in Florida with a higher national profile.
The museum was founded in 1941 by Ralph Hubbard Norton (1875-1953) and Elizabeth Calhoun Norton (1881-1947). A steel tycoon from Chicago, Norton retired to West Palm Beach and built a structure to display the couple’s collection of paintings and sculpture to the public. The nucleus of around 500 works of art collected by the Nortons has grown to over 4,500 objects. When the current campaign is completed, a new three-story wing of 26,500 square feet will be added to the existing building, constructed during a renovation and expansion completed in 1993.
European art between 1870 and 1945 is a major strength of the museum’s holdings and includes representatives of all major art movements: Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism and Surrealism. Other important areas are American art with works by Winslow Homer, Marsden Hartley, and Georgia O’Keeffe, contemporary painting and sculpture, and Chinese art ranging from archaic artifacts to jade from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.
The museum also serves as a home for traveling exhibitions related to the permanent collection. On display during the fair was “The Triumph of French Painting: Masterpieces from Ingres to Matisse,” a show drawn from the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery. Currently up through April 29 is “An American in Europe: The Photography Collection of Baroness Jeane von Oppenheim from the Norton Museum of Art” with 120 photographs by Twentieth Century European artists.
There was a new annex this year, constructed in an area occupied by the old dealer’s lounge, which allowed for more intimate displays of various decorative arts. Among the exhibitors in this space were Earle D. Vandekar, New York City, with ceramics, furniture, and works of art; English textiles dealer Marilyn Garrow; and Elise Abrams of Massachusetts with her Belle Epoque dining services.
When asked why come to Palm Beach, dealers repeatedly state variations on the basic theme, “Because this is where it’s at!” New exhibitor Claire Sarti of Paris stated the facts from a European perspective: “We have clients in Florida, so we though it might be interesting to come. Doing Palm Beach is a bit special. People in New York or Chicago have houses here for the winter.”
As a returning exhibitor, Paul Vandekar notes, “The show has matured over the last three years. It’s changed dramatically. There are more decorative arts and antiques mixed in with the paintings and jewelry. What you have down here is not just Florida; everyone’s from somewhere else. I just sold a piece of Derby porcelain to a lady who lives in Washington, D.C. My clients from New York, Chicago, Boston, Texas, or Los Angeles are all here. That’s what brought me back. I don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to see my clients; they’re all here. And not just people who’ve retired, young people who come down here for the weekend or rent a house on the water.”
Sales figures are the hardest thing to determine at a fair of this caliber. Exhibitor reactions range from discreet about good pieces that have sold to cagey about art and objects that have not. Prices are rarely displayed and dealers sometimes seem distressed over the need to voice them out loud. An awful lot of stuff – art, antiques, jewelry – seems to fall in the $80,000 to $250,000 range, and some reach seven figures. Mid-range paintings and all sorts of decorative arts attracted buyers on the spot, but many more important pieces may sell throughout the coming year as a result of contacts built up in Palm Beach. Contacts and good will are the name of the game.
The post-fair press release revealed that “the strongest sales, record-setting in some instances, were among the jewelry dealers including Graff and David Morris, from London: New York’s Fred Leighton, and Richters, from Palm Beach.” Discretion is most frequently exercised by exhibitors in this area, who carefully set up private conference areas deep within the booths for serious consultations. Jewels on display are immense and totally unbelievable. Dealers in this area bring a large staff to handle the constant inquiries as clients ask to be shown one exhibit after another. The dazzling pieces worn to the opening night Vernissage are the best testimony to the market for both estate and designer jewelry in Palm Beach.
The Lesters, who were able to sign up the majority of exhibitors for the sixth edition in 2002, also seem comfortable with the show’s progress, reporting with pride, “The consensus among participants and attendees was that the Palm Beach Fair has emerged as one of the world’s most important international art and antiques venues.” They seem ready for the ultimate challenge of New York.
The Norton Museum of Art is at 1451 South Olive Avenue in West Palm Beach. For information, 561-832-5196 or visit www.norton.org.
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