Turning up the heat at this summer's Olympia fair
New co-organiser David Lester says he plans to make the event a major international fair over the next three years
By Viv Lawes. Market, Issue 214, June 2010
Published online: 31 May 2010
International Fine Art Expositions (Ifae), the Florida-based behemoth of a fair organisation owned by David and Lee Ann Lester, bought a 50% stake in Clarion’s June Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair last summer. Since then Lester has turned up the heat on this summer showcase, running from 4-13 June, traditionally the most international of the three (now two) annual Olympia fairs.
It has suffered from an unstable identity in the past few years, but Lester is crystal clear about his intentions. “We are seeking to develop Lifaf over a three-year period into a major international fair,” he said. “We have a completely new fair design, new marketing programme, and a free taxi service from key Mayfair hotels.” The upmarket acronym “Lifaf” branding of Olympia is unlikely to be lost on art market professionals, who will hear echoes and spot the eye-rhymes of Tefaf Maastricht and Iafaf Palm Beach, Lester’s popular February show in Florida.
It is the largest of the June fairs, with 160 exhibitors to date, although this marks a drop from last year’s 212 stands. The makeup is still predominantly British, with just four dealerships from New York/Miami, one from Taipei and 11 from continental Europe, six of which are Italian. It has the flavour of a classic Olympia, with 40% of the British dealers coming from outside London.
Sixteen of the dealerships are also showing at Masterpiece (see p1)—including big hitters such as Osborne Samuel and Vanderven & Vanderven Oriental Art. The latter is an Olympia stalwart: “I have always come to London in June, since it’s one of our most important markets. I aim for a selling platform that’s as large as possible. Olympia is an established fair and I’m sure it will attract lots of people,” said Floris van der Ven. Pride of place at Olympia will be a Tang dynasty figure of a prancing horse, with an asking price of €75,000.
Twentieth-century design is prominent at Lifaf, with respected names such as Gordon Watson and De Parma taking up large stands. Peter Petrou, whose heady decorating style is more eclectic, has opted for Olympia after several years with Grosvenor House. A sculptural bronze chair, Structures Williamsburg, by Claude Lalanne (b1926), made in 1986 for the courtyard of the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Virginia, will be offered for £75,000. David Lester has not specifically targeted the traditional furniture trade, which has had a high profile at Olympia in the past. This year there are 27 antique furniture dealers (not counting 20th-century modern dealers); last year there were 65. One returnee is the long-time exhibitor Lennox Cato, who admits to being concerned about the change in emphasis.
Many smaller dealerships have not returned to Olympia this year after the cost of stand prices rose, while a marketing levy of £1,500, which is refundable at £5 for every visitor handing in an exhibitor’s complimentary pass at the fair, appeals to big firms rather than small ones. The paintings specialist John Robertson of the Bourne Gallery said: “I have barely missed an Olympia show for 33 years, but the June fairs were in a smaller hall. Why do fair organisers always think that bigger is better?”
A quick tour d’horizon of the 35 picture dealers taking part confirms that Olympia’s traditional strength is still in classic 18th- to 20th-century paintings. One example is Trinity House, which will be exhibiting a broad selection of works, including a pastel portrait of Jeanne Toussaint by Paul Cesar Helleu (illustrated left), priced at £300,000. Lester has scored a double coup by signing up for the first time Robilant + Voena, who will mount a Julian Schnabel exhibition, and for enlisting Moretti Fine Art.
The fair director Fabrizio Moretti commented: “Now that David Lester has taken over the organisation, we can see great changes and believe that he will make the event a great success.”
LIFAF Olympia, Olympia Exhibition Centre, Hammersmith Road, 4-13 June, www.lifaf.com
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