As the London-based LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair enters its ninth year in the city, we chat with fair director Mieka Sywak on the ins and outs of running a major cultural event in a modern city. We also picked up a few buying tips for those interested in heading to the ceramics, silver, tapestry and furniture-filled fair, which takes place 15-20 September in Berkeley Square. Additionally, we scored you free entrance to the event (now you have no excuse). Grab a pair of free tickets on the LAPADA site.
How is the LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair opening up the art world to a new market?
First and foremost, we want LAPADA to reveal to visitors how special the world of art and antiques is and how easy it is to start collecting. This year, we’re hosting a series of talks and events throughout the week which we hope will help first-time buyers find their feet in the art market and introduce seasoned collectors to new areas they may not have explored. For instance, the Ashmolean Museum are presenting a talk on their upcoming exhibition, ‘Imagining the Divine: Art and the Rise of World Religions’, and award-winning food historian Tasha Marks is leading an interactive workshop in which guests will explore the significance of sugar in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The series will wrap with a history of jewellery presented by John Benjamin that will cover baubles from the days of Elizabeth I to Elizabeth Taylor. In June, we hosted a talk on the history and heritage of collecting antique jewellery with our main sponsors Killik & Co, as well as Anthea Gesua from A.G. Antiques, Amy Burton from Hancocks London and Aimée van Kranendonk Duffels from VKD Jewels, which offered advice to young collectors on choosing jewellery and how to start a collection. It proved really popular, so we’re hoping our other talks will be as successful.
What’s the best thing about being fair director?
I’m lucky to work with exhibitors who are true specialists in their field; many have over 20 years experience in their respective fields. They personally invest huge amounts of time, money and energy in the works they curate. In today’s fast-paced world where you can get instant Google answers for everything, it’s a gift to work with people who dedicate so much to their work and have such an in-depth knowledge and understanding of their subject areas.
How do you choose your 111 exhibitors?
Each of our exhibitors has to be a member of LAPADA, the Association of Art & Antiques Dealers. Established in 1974, it’s the largest society of professional art and antiques dealers in the UK with over 500 members worldwide. Member specialities range from fine art, jewellery and furniture to contemporary works, sculpture and ceramics. Members apply to the fair and our fair committee, made up of member dealers, helps us select participants based on their area of expertise. We have a waiting list for some of the more popular disciplines, such as antique jewellers and silver, as we have to ensure no area is over or under represented. We want visitors to have a broad range of dealers to choose from, but we also need to have a balanced fair that represents the different aspects of the British art and antiques trade.
What’s been the hardest bit of making LAPADA a travel-worthy event?
Collectors will always travel to LAPADA as they have a true passion for art and antiques, but one of the most interesting challenges we have is engaging first-time buyers. Many people think an antique chest of drawers or a piece of silverware or porcelain is completely out of their budget and so they don’t think the fair will have anything for them. It’s not until they actually visit the fair and have a conversation with one of our exhibitors, that they learn that these items are within their budget of a few thousand pounds. It’s indeed an investment, however, it can cost the same as buying a piece of mass-produced furniture. Yes, there will always be an exceptional piece on offer for six figures, but on that same stand there may be something that fits within your budget and all you need to do is ask. Part of the challenge is getting younger buyers to feel comfortable enough at the fair to approach dealers and start asking questions. One of the ways we’re trying to help overcome this is through our public talk series. We’re hosting a talk by antiques dealer Mark Hill called ‘Undressing Antiques’ which will explore the different ways we attribute meaning to the word ‘value’, what young collectors are purchasing now, and how to integrate antiques into a modern home. Getting over this mental barrier has been a challenge, but one I’ve noticed is fading away.
What is it that you love about antiques and historic artwork?
The materials, craftsmanship and character of antiques cannot be rivalled today, and the more time I have to admire historic works of art and design, the more I marvel at their originality and how groundbreaking they were at the time. With an understanding of historic art, architecture and design, I feel I’m better able to appreciate contemporary work and to appreciate what is truly original and different. I find that when I consider contemporary design I can’t help but be drawn to earlier periods and want to learn more about the inspiration behind a piece. One of my favourite galleries in London is the V&A Museum because I like their unique way of juxtaposing exhibitions of historic importance with contemporary works so that we can better understand the whole spectrum of human creativity throughout the centuries.
What makes London’s art scene unique enough to draw so many artists and art lovers year after year?
London is the centre of today’s art world. Art is so accessible in this city: there are world-renowned museums and galleries all over and most are free of charge, so you view masterpieces in a spare hour between meetings, or bring your children to see works by Picasso or Rubens from an early age. This is further strengthened by the commercial galleries in Mayfair and St James’s that made London known as a centre for the fine arts: for over 150 years people have been able to see and buy artworks by leading artists in these galleries, just as you’d buy clothes or food – though with a bigger price tag.
We’re so lucky at LAPADA to be in the centre of where art, business and fashion meet, and to be surrounded by the world’s finest restaurants, hotels, private members’ clubs and galleries. After nine years in Berkeley Square, I’ve seen the area evolve and reinvent itself into a landmark location. London’s constantly changing and evolving, which is something that draws artists and collectors alike, and makes it such an exciting place to be a part of.
Any tips on navigating London’s fair season?
When you’re at an art fair be curious and ask as many questions as you want: there’s no rush. I think the more you learn, the more you want to bring a work home with you. I’m a true impulse buyer. I’ll fall in love with something from a distance and then be sold on the history and provenance of the piece.
Between musing over masterpieces and appraising antiques, what should people do at the fair?
This year we’ve partnered with award-winning sparkling wine extraordinaires Gusbourne Estate. We wanted to work with an estate that shares our appreciation of craftsmanship and British heritage and Gusbourne seemed the ideal partner. We’ll be serving their Blanc de Blancs, which we hear is regularly enjoyed at Buckingham Palace, at the private preview and their full range of English sparkling wines will be available throughout the week in the brasserie.
Do you have any tips for finding hidden gems at LAPADA?
Allow yourself to be surprised by what you’re drawn to. I constantly speak to visitors who come to the fair to see one genre of work and then discover a whole new area of collecting. That’s the beauty of staging a fair with no specific dateline or medium; we cover everything from antique coins to contemporary painting, leaving plenty of room for discovering something new.
I always visit a fair during the first few days and again towards the end. Regardless of whether I hope to buy something or not, seeing what a dealer puts on their stand at the beginning and what they have towards the end is a way for me to understand what’s selling and see any buying trends that are emerging. Exhibitors change their collection throughout LAPADA, so never assume you’ve seen everything a gallery has to offer.
Have you noticed any trends emerging in the art market? In other words, what should we add to our collections?
I think traditional antiques are on the rise again: the minimalist design aesthetic of the noughties is done. I’ve seen this across all different disciplines from antique jewellery, to silver, furniture and art. It’s also noticeable in fashion with many designers quoting the arts and design of previous centuries, which has an impact on what people are buying in other areas. People are more comfortable mixing genres and periods, and there’s now a real focus on originality and quality of craftsmanship and materials, which are the main appeals of antiques.
Modern British art is another area where I see real growth potential – there’s still a wealth of artists to discover. We have a number of exhibitors who specialise in this style of art and on their stands you’ll find a range of works priced from £1,000 to hundreds of thousands.
If you had an unlimited budget, what would you buy at the fair?
Everything! I’m constantly learning how much history and craftsmanship this country is steeped in [Mieka was born and raised in California], and how much of it is reflected in the decorative arts. You can find beautiful samplers embroidered by young women in the 17th century next to a stand filled with modern furniture made by leading designers. Lately I can’t keep myself away from antique jewellery. This year the fair has it all, from Roman earrings to 1970s necklaces. People’s desire to adorn themselves with beautiful things is timeless, and to see so much under one roof is a privilege.
What are you most excited about for this year’s fair?
The LAPADA fair is truly eclectic, exceptional and British. I’m always excited to see what our exhibitors bring and to discover things, whether it be a niche area of collecting or a new artist or maker. Ted Few manages to surprise us every year with a collection of eclectic art and antiques that I think only he could bring together as a dealer. I also can’t wait to see Didier and Martine Haspeslagh’s collection of jewellery by famous artists such as Georges Braque, Jean Cocteau and Picasso. I love to see these intimate pieces of jewellery made by modern masters.