Forrest & Fraser partakes in the discussion of art fairs and the nature of being an online business in the climate of social distancing and lockdown in The Open Art Fair Magazine
In Real Life
25 JUNE 2020
Why do we go to fairs in an age of e-commerce?
Months ago and worlds away, I found myself watching a gnarly farmer in a Stetson peer over the metal bars of a cattle enclosure, as his grandson slouched nearby, picking his nose and rubbing it on his shorts. High on an umpire’s chair over the hubbub of the crowd, an auctioneer introduced lot 42, a jet-black, three-thousand pound bullock. The animal looked right through me as I took a sip of Lady Grey and adjusted my pyjamas, unperturbed because I was watching the event – a cattle market in Northumbria – over video link from my bed in south London, and shaking my head in wonder. I could literally buy a cow over the Internet. Is nothing sacred?
Apparently not – and over the past few months online shopping has proven a godsend for small businesses. As coronavirus lock-downs eradicate private views and in-person sales, online markets have proved a necessary lifeline to businesses in every sector, including fine arts and crafts, driving even the most Luddite dealers to focus on their online inventories in a bid to continue selling.
Sadly, online sales can only do so much to help. So far this year dozens of art fairs, in their physical form, including The Open Art Fair, have been curtailed for the sake of public health. This will be a blow to many dealers, much of whose income is derived from sales at the shows. Shows like these are not only about sales, either – they’re also opportunities to mingle, socialise, and learn with buyers and sellers alike.
“Art fairs have become an integral part of the social and cultural calendar”, I’m told by Lily Le Brun, who manages an established private collection of British art. Globetrotting collectors typically spend March in Maastricht, May in New York, and June in Basel. Because of this, fairs often coincide with the auction season, but where auctions supply an adrenaline rush to would-be buyers, she says, “fairs are a chance to slow down, make new discoveries and build relationships”.
Vanessa Curry agrees. An art consultant who has been advising collectors for over a decade, she values the opportunity to meet new dealers and discover interesting new works: “The great thing about fairs is all the new stuff that’s there which I hadn’t accounted for. It sparks inspiration.”
I ask Curry what makes an object jump out for her. “Serendipity is a really important thing when it comes to art and antiques – and it can be quite emotional – we can be at a point in our lives where an object has a certain resonance with you, and you think ‘I have to have it!’”
When I spoke to Curry, the lockdown had not started, but her words have a special resonance after several months holed up at home. I’m now intensely aware of the emotional value I associate with my favourite objects and the circumstances in which I acquired them, many of them having come to me through lucky finds and conversations at fairs and markets.
Collectors are not the only ones that feel this way. Richard Atkinson, a silverware specialist and one half of Forrest & Fraser, confided that, for him, being at the fair is mostly about personal contact.
As one of a growing cadre of online dealers, Forrest & Fraser are not affected in quite the same way by the global health crisis. While his business doesn’t have the overheads of a bricks-and-mortar gallery, being a digital dealer brings its own challenges: “showing our personality is incredibly important,” he enthuses. When fairs do eventually reopen, it’ll be a chance to take that personality back into the real world. “On our website, we try to give a sense of the evolution and personality of objects,” Atkinson says. For him, fairs promise an exciting opportunity to connect with colleagues and collectors, to talk to them about his pieces, and how they might use or display them.
Conversations like these feel impossibly far away right now, as public health concerns take precedence, but one thing the lockdown has done is remind us of the joy and excitement of the old fashioned art fair. When we’re sick of online orders and the sight of our own living rooms, we can look to the big social and artistic events as a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
In response to the corona virus pandemic we made the very difficult decision not to open our exhibition stand at The Open Art Fair in London this spring. Several of the wonderful pieces from our collections, which we intended to bring to The Open Art Fair, featured in numerous publications in the run up to this wonderful event, and we would like to thank everyone for the support we received. We look forward to the time we can meet in the not so distant future.
The Open Art Fair offers a celebration of excellence, and it is with great pleasure that we will be exhibiting here this year.
We are delighted to have this opportunity to meet you, and to offer the occasion to view some of the incredible pieces in our collection; and of course for you to be able to purchase directly from us at this wonderful and prestigious event.
We very much look forward to seeing you there!
visit https://www.theopenartfair.com for further details