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Difficult timing for autumn fairs in New York as financial crisis hits home

Allegations of “fake” antiques further undermine confidence

The two October fairs organised by Britons Brian and Anna Haughton in New York suffered not only from the crisis in the world’s financial markets, but also from the US election’s vice-presidential debate and allegations of faking in the antiques trade.

Both the Park Avenue Armory fairs—the International Design and Art Fair (3-8 October) and the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show (17-23 October)—had already shrunk considerably in size as the organisers offered larger stands and put a café inside the venue, and attendance appeared sluggish at both.

The vernissage of the design fair was very quiet, in part because so many Americans were glued to their television sets for the live vice-presidential debate that night. There was a sense of disappointment from the outset as the dealer roster numbered 38, down from 56 last year. Even so, dealers including Lewis Wexler, Cristina Grajales and Maison Gerard racked up decent sales.  Mr Wexler sold early Dale Chihuly glassware, a pair of Wendell Castle 1976 doors for $125,000, and two benches by contemporary designer Matthias Pliessnig for $28,000.  At New York dealer Brian Kish’s stand, glass vessels and lighting were scooped up, including a Venini chandelier that sold for $14,000 to Sir Norman Rosenthal, former exhibitions secretary at the Royal Academy in London.

Some dealers spoke of clients requesting “big discounts” on account of the financial turmoil, and precious metals were moving strongly. First-time participant Drucker Antiques, a Georg Jensen specialist, made 42 sales including an art deco coffee set for $70,000, Cartier period jewellery and an entire set of Jensen flatware. “Clients wanted durable goods,” said Janet Drucker. Paintings and works on paper fared poorly, with both the Sundaram Tagore Gallery and Goedhuis Contemporary selling nothing at all.

The International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and the vernissage was a glittering mix of socialites and interior designers. But a pall was cast over the evening by a New York Times report that the dealer Carlton Hobbs, who has a 51-room house off Madison Avenue, had conspired with his brother John to create fake antiques (see box, top right).

The crowd was smaller than usual, the dealer roster down from 84 in its inaugural show to 63, and sales were patchy by the end of the opening weekend. Both James Robinson of Park Avenue and A La Vieille Russie reported a successful fair, with good jewellery sales. On the opening night, London dealer Ronald Phillips sold a neoclassical mirror and an 1815 English clock in the shape of a rhinoceros with a globe on its back for more than $150,000. “We’ve seen clients from South America, Europe, Canada and both coasts here—the right people still come to the fair,” said Jeremy Garfield-Davies, of Ronald Phillips. 

But again, picture dealers seemed especially hard hit, with Browse & Darby selling nothing and Brame & Lorenceau selling only a small Bonnard drawing.

“It’s not like normal times at all,” said Chicago dealer Douglas Dawson, who specialises in ethnography. His reported sales at the fair were down 60% compared with last year. 

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Difficult timing for autumn events'