Lester and his wife Lee Ann, who launched the fair back in 1997, rapidly built it into a world-ranking event attracting many top international dealers. In 2001 Lester sold the fair to dmg world media for $18m.
After the change of ownership the Palm Beach Fair started on a downward spiral and there were obvious danger signs when big names like Konrad Bernheimer and Axel Vervoordt left.
However, following escalating difficulties with the management, earlier this year a core of the top exhibitors who felt the fair still had much potential and could be revived, approached dmg promising a five-year commitment for a share of the equity and the return of David Lester as their representative.
The deal was scheduled to be concluded by the close of the Grosvenor House fair but fell through before then. The dealers did not want to own the fair, partly for tax reasons, and they did not have faith in some of the continuing dmg management personnel who would be retained. As one of the dealers said, they would rather be part of a well-run fair than part-owners of one in decline.
Clearly, dmg and the dealers were not going to come to an agreement. The dealers wanted Lester to galvanise the fair he founded, dmg wanted to cut their losses and Lester wanted the fair. It suited everyone that the fair will be sold back to David Lester, albeit at much less than dmg paid for it.
Lester will continue to work closely with the core of top exhibitors, which includes Richard Green, Cohen & Cohen and MacConnal-Mason Gallery. For their part, around 20 key exhibitors have given the fair a three-year commitment.
Michael Franks, chief operating officer of dmg world media, who was in charge of the fair, seemed relieved at concluding the Palm Beach saga. He said dmg could now concentrate on their successful Palm Beach3 contemporary fair and SOFAs Chicago and New York.
“We are pleased to pass the fair over and dmg wish the exhibitors all the best of luck. It is right they should control their destiny,” he told ATG.
Clearly, top antiques fairs find it difficult to work with a corporate structure and prefer the more flamboyant, driven approach of a man like David Lester. Certainly the excitement seems to be back.
By David Moss