Although the seven-day event was hailed for its organisation, appearance and bustling preview day, some exhibitors found that sales results reflected a difficult market.
“Right now, the market does not seem to support one sort of item over another,” long-time exhibitor Thomas Woodham-Smith told ATG. “It is not even a case of the ordinary versus the extraordinary, shown before or fresh to the market. Every sale simply seems to be a fluke.”
Some of the buyers’ hesitancy can be put down to political uncertainty following the last general election.
But for some regulars at summer Olympia, which last year followed shortly after the Brexit vote, facing another consecutive year of uncertain purchases was trying.
The fair itself has made moves to update its presentation and offerings. This year it launched a programme of talks given by interior designers (some of whom made purchases of their own at the fair) on how to use Olympia offerings in the home, with an eye on the decorative market. For the second year in a row it hosted SOFA London, an art fair focusing on three-dimensional art and design, and it is the third year that its dates have overlapped up with those of Masterpiece London.
Such adjustments to a venerable event show a willingness to adapt to the market. And the appearance of the fair, which this year hosted 160 dealers at the Kensington exhibition centre, is almost universally acclaimed.
But for some, including Woodham- Smith, the changes to the event are not enough to compensate for the fact that it is “too far away” for some international visitors and potential buyers staying in central London to attend conveniently, as well as a generally sluggish market.
“It was a very good-looking fair,” said exhibitor James Millard of English and continental furniture specialist Anthony James & Son. “Some people did decent business but, as with any fair, especially in this economic climate, sadly not everyone did.”
“The fair itself has made moves to update its presentation and offerings
Fair director Mary Claire Boyd acknowledged the state of the market but said that despite “uncertain times”, business showed “very encouraging signs across the board”.
Sales were certainly made in many areas, including a painting by Sir Alfred Munnings which was ticketed at £85,000 at the stand of Taylor Gallery and a Julian Trevelyan oil, ticketed at £9800, which went from the stand of first-time exhibitor Freya Mitton.
Meanwhile, a number of sales were made in furniture. Continental and English furniture dealer Robin Martin Antiques sold a pair of George II hall chairs to a new customer, a George III dresser from the stand of Wakelin & Linfield found a new home and country house furniture specialist David Bedale sold a number of antique tables on the first day.
Boyd was particularly pleased with the number of sales made to international clients, saying that fair shippers Stephen Morris had sent pieces to “a wide variety of far-flung places from Beijing to Bangkok” as well as to the US and more.
Patrick Sandberg Antiques, for example, sold a 19th century regency period dining table to an American family for £25,000 and James Brett, returning to the fair after seven years, sold a 17th century Ottoman table with mother of pearl inlay to a European client.
The fair provides a counterpoint to Masterpiece, where objects are often stunning in quality as well as price. And the closure of Art Antiques London this year has made Olympia even more essential as a secondary event in the summer calendar.
Olympia has its share of loyal supporters and is widely praised for its organisation.
Second-time dealer James Manning of Manning Fine Art told ATG that “there is never any suggestions of panic behind the scenes”. That was true this year, despite an anti-ivory trade campaign led by the protest group Action for Elephants conducted outside the venue on the Saturday.
Woodham-Smith said: “Mary Claire does an amazing job; she does every fair against all odds. It isn’t the organisation but a confluence of factors including location and the trade itself that sometimes lead to these results.”
Manning agreed: “There’s an overall feeling of competence which keeps exhibitors and visitors coming back.”