The initial surprise was profound and heartfelt. Many dealers and regular visitors to the fair struggled to come to terms with the fact that the UK’s oldest and most iconic antiques event was no more.
Grosvenor House, founded in September 1934, was synonymous with the British antiques scene. It was the template of all quality fairs since and – although its role in the London Season had diminished – still the quintessentially upmarket, quality antiques fair. Its historic role and enduring status, though, did not deter the American owners of the Grosvenor House Hotel, J.W. Marriott Hotels, from axing the event in its Diamond anniversary year.
The Marriott groups’ considerations were purely commercial. However prestigious the fair might have been, it took a week to set up, ran for eight days and then took another week to dismantle. It was estimated by the group that they could make more money with five gala evening events in the Great Room than they did out of the fair.
Two days after the 75th fair closed on the evening of June 17 (ironically it had been one of the most successful stagings of recent years) fair director Alison Vaissière and BADA representative Elaine Dean were summoned by Marriott and told there would be a massive price hike or the fair must go.
Already the fair cost around £1200 a square metre, so it was a done deal as far as the hotel was concerned.
Apart from those at the meeting (none were exhibitors) no one else had an inkling that the fair was finished and it was agreed that after such a successful fair the news of its demise would be held back until Tuesday, June 30. Exhibitors were informed by email at midday and later a press release was issued.
In the release the hotel owners stated “For 75 years the hotel and the art and antiques trade have enjoyed a happy and productive relationship, but it has been decided in consultation with BADA and the executive committee that the fair is no longer financially viable.”
Simon Phillips, head of Mayfair dealership Ronald Phillips and chairman of the fair, expressed his disappointment but conceded “it no longer makes financial sense to continue the fair” and added that the anniversary was “a fitting point on which to end on a positive note”.
Grosvenor House will be missed but its exhibitors are already convinced it will be replaced.
The June 30 statement also said: “The closure of this much-loved fair, however, presents an opportunity for the trade to mount a new event commensurate with maintaining London as the centre of the art market.”
It was that sentiment which found unanimous support among the Grosvenor House exhibitors. Within hours of hearing the news key exhibitors were seriously talking of some sort of reincarnation. A TEFAF type dealer-driven organisation seems the preferred option.
London dealer Peter Petrou, who enjoyed a stunning fair this year, told ATG: “I was shocked. The closure was not known by anyone at the fair. But this is a golden opportunity and we would be crazy not to do something. This is not a disaster. We have got the exhibitors, the clients and a clever executive committee. We have only lost a venue.”
Lewis Smith, head of London silver dealers Koopman Rare Art, who had one of their best fairs ever at Grosvenor House last month, said: “There has to be another such fair. If London is to remain the centre of the art market it must have such a prestigious show and the branding has to be clever.
“Like Grosvenor House a new fair must be spectacular, of the highest quality and those levels kept up. The world needs such a new event and we can change with it. This is an opportunity as well as a sadness.”
Harry Apter of long-time exhibitors Apter-Fredericks, the Fulham Road period furniture dealers, said the Grosvenor exhibitors will “stick together with a new fair of the same status. Such a fair may be just a wish at the moment but there are moves afoot and all sorts of logistics to sort out.”
Simon Phillips was very positive and told us: “I am particularly sad since this year’s was the best fair I have ever done. There will be another fair and I will be as active as I can in another venture. London must have such a fair.”
BADA will be involved in any discussions. “June is a great trading month and London is a world centre,” BADA secretary general Mark Dodgson told ATG. “Grosvenor House will be replaced. Venues have to be considered. It is early but we are talking with everyone.”
Alison Vaissière, Grosvenor House fair director since 1992 and an employee of the hotel, leaves her post at the end of this month. She said last week: “The trade will get together and something will happen. There is nothing specific going on but there needs to be another key London fair that is top notch.”
In short there is much support for another Grosvenor House type fair next June and there are hopes that it could be an event free from the limitations of the old fair.
The big questions are who will organise it and where would it be?