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People prefer new rugs

Valentine’s Day sale for Davide Halevim’s farewell to the carpet trade

Davide Halevim is one of the world’s leading carpet dealers, with galleries in Milan, Monte Carlo, Capri, Cortina and Porto Cervo. His distinctive taste has always been for strong bold colours and inspirational designs. Now after 23 years in the business, he is closing down his galleries and selling his collection to concentrate on his acting career. The sale of carpets, rugs and tapestries takes place at Christie's London on 14 February.

E.M: Why have you decided to close down your business and sell all your stock?

Davide Halevim: I started working very young, opening my gallery at the age of 22. I built this collection of carpets like a collector and not a dealer, with my heart and not my head. It was a very exhausting lifestyle, especially as I won’t fly, so all the travelling took much longer. My father died 18 months ago while he was still young, that made me think a lot. My only daughter does not want to follow me in to the business and I decided to retire in glory while I am still at the top. I have been fascinated with contemporary art for a long time and I shall also focus on a new challenge which is my acting and film production career. I don’t want to become the richest man in the cemetery. I specially asked Christie’s to have the sale on 14 February, as I wanted to make a romantic gesture and retire on St Valentine’s Day—and I hope the whole room will be full of red roses.

EM: How is the carpet market doing; is the middle market very weak?

DH: Yes, the middle market is finished and I said this years ago. The production of new carpets is booming. People prefer to buy these, rather than the far more expensive antique carpets in the middle market. They can chose exactly the size, design and colour they want. However the top of the market is very, very, strong, It is the middle and lower ends that have suffered. Many of these dealers are now concentrating on modern carpet production. Even though there is strong demand for the top end of the market, it is not so easy to find the pieces any more. That is why this sale is so important: there are top examples for sale in almost every category

EM: What about Middle Eastern buyers: have they had a big impact on the top end of the market?

DH: There are one or two very important buyers but they only want early pieces in good condition and there aren’t many of them. You can’t run a business if you stick to such a specialist area.

EM: Battilossi was another important Italian dealer who sold up two years ago; was that for the same reasons?

DH: He was an older man than myself, but his son went into new carpet production and he said OK, enough. Believe me, it is very difficult to find both early pieces and the sought-after decorative pieces. If you can find them—you can live. But the middle market, forget it. I think this business will become more and more difficult because it is so hard to find top pieces. This sale will have a huge impact on the market, people have not seen a collection of this quality for years and it will be very positive for the market. Christie’s are expecting in excess of £4 million, when the last record for a single owner sale is £2million.

EM: The estimates seem very reasonable: have they been set very low?

DH: They seem very low to me. But this is an auction where everyone should have the chance to buy. I would prefer my friends and private collectors to buy, rather than the dealers. I think many of the lots will go well over the estimates.

EM: What are the most interesting pieces you are selling?

DH: If you asking me for my personal taste, I am especially interested in East Turkestan and North West Persia with their combination of Islamic and Chinese designs in rich colours. I have always been especially attracted to Persian Heriz and Bakshaish carpets with strong designs and colour contrasts, and also the richness of Agra carpets.

EM: Are the East Turkestan carpets a very specialised area of the market?

DH: Yes, because they are very difficult to find. They are the only early 19th-century carpets that are decorative, but also desired by collectors who generally go for the early pieces. Those in the sale are especially fine examples and I think they will do very well. I hope the whole sale does very well but anything which does not sell I will keep. I will never sell after the auction, so this is the one and only chance.

EM: Are you worried that the carpet dealers will try and ring the sale ?

DH: I don’t think this is a worry; the pieces are so rare and important there will be plenty of private collectors bidding. Also there is a lot of jealousy between the dealers so they are unlikely to all work together.

EM: Are there any categories which are doing particularly well ?

DH: Top Agra carpets have gone through the roof in the last three years. They are very decorative, and to find top carpets in good condition is very difficult. Apart from Aubusson and Savonnerie they are the only carpets which go really well with 18th-century French furniture, and they are much less expensive

EM: What about the market for Chinese carpets?

DH: I think they are valued very low in relationship to their importance. They are very decorative; I only like the unusual ones, not the classical ones. They have a geometric quality which fits very well with contemporary art.

EM: You have always collected contemporary art alongside the carpets, will you continue with your modern art gallery after you close the carpet business?

DH: Oh yes. The gallery in Milan is called The No Limits Gallery and I run it with two friends. The contemporary art market is booming, and the new internet millionaires want to buy contemporary art, not carpets. To buy antique carpets, you have to have a particular sensibility: they are part of Oriental culture and are less easy for Europeans to understand. I won’t be selling carpets in the gallery but I have introduced many collectors of contemporary art to buying carpets. These are two areas which, although very different, complement one another and look marvellous side by side.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 111 February 2001