The loss of FORM is the final act in the troubled history of Olympia’s Spring fairs. Despite the success and international esteem accorded the Summer Olympia, and the increasingly strong Winter Olympia, the Spring version has always been a problem and, frankly, has never been conspicuously successful.
For most of its 13 years it was one of the three annual Fine Art & Antiques Fairs although it attempted to have a more modern, decorative edge than the other two.
In 2006 Clarion gave the Spring fair an unashamedly modern slant and retitled it Fine Art, Design and Antiques, marketing it as “the fair for the 21st century”.
But it remained weak and last year it was bravely rebranded FORM with show director Freya Simms promising an experience not before seen at Olympia, a fair that was definitely not an antiques fair and one which broke the Olympia mould, combining cutting edge with style and design.
This was a last-ditch attempt to bolster a weak slot and, while some appreciated its rough and ready, fresh, fun approach, FORM was not a serious new fair and fell between a number of disciplines, being neither contemporary nor antique – but incorporating exhibitors from both areas.
Last year’s launch of FORM attracted around 110 exhibitors but the final FORM was held in Olympia’s National Hall from February 28 to March 2 earlier this year with some 80 dealers, covering an assortment of modern and contemporary art, photography and design.
This year’s staging was slicker, but, after a busy opening night attendance, business tailed off and many exhibitors ATG contacted were uncertain as to the identity and future of the fair. The fact that it has been scrapped will come as no surprise to a good number of them.
Last week Clarion Events revealed that following an “in-depth review” of FORM they would not be doing it again.
They said the fair had evolved since its launch but stated: “There is still much needed to develop the brand and this is not part of Clarion’s current strategy.”
While Clarion praised the efforts of the FORM team and maintained the fair was still on course to become a key European art and design event, it was clear they did not feel FORM had great commercial potential, and certainly would need much nurturing if it was to survive.
Commenting on the dropping of FORM, Freya Simms said: “The decision, although disappointing, is certainly the right one.”
Some Clarion people close to the fair would have liked FORM to be given a third chance, but clearly the Clarion board, which contains members of the venture capital group who recently took over Clarion, could see the direction the fair was going and on purely commercial grounds decided it was not worth further investment.
As to any return to FORM, Freya Simms told ATG: ”Clarion is currently talking to other event organisers and interested parties with a view to another company running the event in the future.”
However, it is well known in the fairs world that once abandoned a fair is rarely picked up by another organiser – remember last autumn Caroline Penman literally could not give away her venerable Chelsea Antiques Fair.
Observers have long realised there is no place for a Spring fair at Olympia and Clarion should be congratulated for finally admitting the fact and concentrating on the two remaining fairs. But can Clarion after their management buy-out afford not to have a March fixture next year?
By David Moss