Formulated to help high-end dealers survive declining sales during the recession, David and his wife Lee Ann Lester will introduce what they term a low-risk partnership plan in January 2009 for their company Expoships, which organises seaboard fairs aboard Lester’s luxury yacht Seafair.
What is proposed is low-cost stand rental for up to five days, with dealers paying the organisers a further sum – of five to 12 per cent – after the event dependent on how well they have sold.
Mr Lester says: “This is the first art fair partnership plan ever established between organisers and their dealer clients. Primarily it is structured as a ‘pay as you sell’ plan, which creates a true partnership and shared economic interests with our clients.”
Seafair was launched on America’s Eastern seaboard in 2007 and attracted top dealers. However, although there was much international interest and some selective big sales, it was hardly an unqualified success and has been on hold for some time.
Nevertheless, Mr Lester, a flamboyant, sometimes controversial but always innovative impresario, has a following at the very top end of the trade where his ability to galvanise situations is much admired by some of the world’s most influential dealers.
Seafair is perhaps a good model on which to try out this plan since the Lesters own it and it does not have many of the fixed costs of land-based fairs.
On specifics, the Lesters talked about an initial weekly base rent of $3200-$8400, depending on stand size and to include booth lighting among other amenities. The obvious attraction of the percentage fee after the fair is apparent with the Lesters’ assertion: “An unsuccessful fair week will not cause the same economic hardship to the dealer as current models, but a successful fair week can prove highly profitable. This is the first low risk/high reward format ever offered by an organiser.”
David Lester has initiated many different events in his career and with varying success. However, his major achievement was the launch in 1997 of the prestigious Palm Beach International Fine Art & Antiques Fair which rapidly turned into a world-ranking fixture favoured by many top names.
He sold it to dmg world media in 2001 for $18m, but the new owners quickly lost the confidence of the exhibitors and sold it back to Lester earlier this year for a fraction of the purchase price.
The Lesters relaunch Palm Beach next February with a core of top exhibitors promising a three-year commitment.
Even if they do not take up the Seafair offer, the new Lester plan will find favour with many dealers. With the astronomical price of standing at fairs in Palm Beach, New York, London and Paris, there are constant complaints from exhibitors that however badly they fare the organisers get the same high fees.
The Lesters’ proposal will strike an immediate chord and could well interest other organisers.
James Mitchell of London art dealership John Mitchell Fine Paintings, who have shown at Palm Beach and Seafair, responded: “This sounds to me a courageous and highly original basis on which to run a fair, and one which may well be just the ticket for dealers who are through with paying large sums up front to fair organisers who then have no incentive to make the show a success. Vintage David Lester.”