Dealer Howard L. Rehs has been having a busy month going to art fairs and reading about others around the world. Increasingly dealers do their business on the road at these fairs:
During the months of February and March some of the more important art and antique fairs took place … giving the dealers an opportunity to showcase what they do best — cull the finest in their specific periods from the mass amount of work brought to the market in the public forums. Now I know what you are thinking: how could all of these dealers cull the best? Well, they cannot and that is what separates the really good ones from the average ones – and these shows let you compare one against the other.
In early February the activity moved to Florida … or more precisely, West Palm Beach. The American International Fine Art Fair and the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antiques Show fill most of the month. Between the two shows, some 250 dealers display an impressive array of more traditional paintings, furniture, jewelry, etc.; we happen to participate in both of those shows. As with any show, some dealers did well and others did not; but what is of utmost importance is the buzz on the floor … and this year, both shows had the buzz. I will also add that many of the dealers I spoke with had very good shows; including us.
From Florida the action moved up the coast to New York where The Art Show and The Armory Show took place (early March). In addition to these two main shows, there are number of smaller, satellite shows – Pulse, Volta, Independent, Moving Image, Fountain, Red Dot, Pool etc. (some of these names are pretty bazaar). Between them, hundreds, upon hundreds, of dealers displayed some very impressive, and some not so impressive, Modern and Contemporary works of art. Reports from many of these shows were that tens of thousands of people attended and many works of art changed hands – there were even stories of entire booths selling out! That is always a nice sign … wish we could sell out one of our booths!!!!
By the middle of the month the action moved across the ocean to Maastricht and the Middle East. At Maastricht, considered by many to be the top fair in the world, reports were that attendance was down a little – 3%; but with 60,000 plus people attending, what is a few of percentage points? In addition, opening night activity was slower than usual, but having said that there were reports of many important sales, these included works by Picasso, Berckheyde, Heda, Miro, Wool, Kandinsky and Basquiat all priced in the seven figure range; and numerous works in the $100,000 – $999,999 range – Kapoor, Valadon, Gleizes, Lhote, Dufy and Laurens. I did hear from a few of the participating dealers during the show and they were all very busy and, more importantly, selling.
During this same time, Abu Dhabi Art and Art Dubai took place and the reports seemed very good … with some dealers selling out their entire display. Supposedly, traffic was good and there were many international buyers in attendance.
While it is hard to truly gauge the success of these shows from exhibitor, or promoter, reports, what I can tell you, first hand, is how business has been for us during the past two months. Earlier I mentioned that we participated in West Palm Beach shows and both were very successful … not complete sellouts, but considerable interest and strong sales. In addition, the months of February and March were very active in the gallery … and here is a rundown of what happened (for those of you who do not get our Email Updates). Over the two months we sold five paintings by Ridgway Knight, three by Cortes, two by Blanchard, one by Elsley, Dawson, Pieters, Luny, Parker, Glendening, Moreau, Graves, Wiggins and four by Harris. The most difficult part of selling, is trying to replace the works … today, people are holding on to what they have; making it more difficult to source really good works of art — but somehow we are still able to unearth some real gems.
Now for my take on the broader picture. Since late 2009 we have seen a steady increase in the number of buyers entering the market … many of whom now consider the acquisition of a work of art a safe investment alternative – and when compared to a stock certificate, a lot more enjoyable to look at. In late 2010 we started to see interest and buyers in the more affordable levels (under $5,000 – $25,000 range); a sector of the market that disappeared in 2008. Through the first quarter of 2011 this trend has continued. We are far from the BOOM days of 2006 through mid 2008, but more people are coming back, and that is a very good sign.
I have heard talk from fellow dealers and collectors that the Americans are not very active in the market, but from our own experience that is far from true. For us, a majority of the buyers have been U.S. based; and reports from many of the more public sales show that Americans still make up a good percentage of the works sold. In addition, there is a strong and growing contingency of buyers from Europe, Asia and the Middle East — some of whom are spending hundreds of millions of dollars.
Please keep in mind that as the market continues to improve and more people are looking for works of art, prices and demand are going to increase. We will continue to stress that you need to buy a work because you love it and want to own it not because you want to make money – at this point in time, art dealers are not investment advisors – and I hope we never become one. What I will say is that if you buy from the right galleries, those considered the best in their field, the rest should take care of itself. As we have said many times: art is one of the few things you can buy that will appreciate while you appreciate it.