May 11th, 2013 by admin
There was a time when we (and may other fine dealers) would supply interior designers with phenomenal loads of great antiques and decorative furnishing for display at the Kips Bay Designer Show House. It was a showcase where interiors were created to inspire one to the finest in taste, style, and quality. None of those last 3 adjectives describes how I would classify this week’s opening of this esteemed event.
It is not to say that there isn’t talent, but if something wasn’t of the contemporary nature or “faux” edgy, it would not have a place in this Show. Not only were there barely any items over 100 years old, you could probably count on your hand the number that were even 50 years old. Mid-Century was somehow in short supply, and items of outstanding quality, non-existent. What does this say about the state of decorating with antiques and the pursuit of living with the finest? It does say if you have bold colors or just plain white you can decorate on a dime. Cheap is now chic.
The need for furnishing at all is now in question. I bring this point up as I saw a 4 page (a 2 double page pull out) advertisement in the New York Times Magazine). It showed the expanse of looking through the all glass windows of luxury apartment with a man (husband) standing on a terrace on the 1st page and a woman (his wife) in the dining area on the last (4th page). Almost no furniture, accessories, even walls are seen in the panorama of the apartment. Oh, but there was one essential piece, the white on white contemporary art on wall. The decoration is on the outside of the apartment; the lights and views of New York City are meant to be more important than the actual living environment. If this is the future of interior design, I have a lot of old firewood sitting in my inventory.
That actually may be the case. This relentless trend has not abated but is now is a total freefall. Have a conversation with anyone and with the rare exception (especially anyone now under 50) they will not be embracing period (any period) pieces. According to the confirmation of this trend as exhibited at Kips Bay, old is not relevant to today’s world. Having the latest gadget or trophy asset means more than aspiring to have knowledge of quality, craftsmanship, and historical value.
The pity of it all is that antiques and decorative arts of all styles and periods have failed in Marketing 101. Cache is not associated with a Chippendale chair as much as a Jackson Pollack painting. The image of tired, functionally difficult to live with furniture is in full retreat to simplicity of form and color. Perhaps antiques and the decorative arts need a makeover however it’s not going to come from the interior design trade; most of them have already left the building.
April 16th, 2013 by admin
For a dealer, the consignment option has equal if not more value than to an auctioneer. Consigned inventory is controlled inventory, and how you sell it depends upon a liquidation time frame. There are many options that dealers could offer, like being a conduit for consignors to the technology of 1st Dibs while also offering professional vetting and service. It’s also probably a lot cheaper than doing the show circuit too.
I must confess that I have been “there and back again” over the history of technology and the Internet, as the web has been littered with good attempts to be the eBay of better quality decorative and fine arts. I still have my business plan (from back in the day) to implement my creation, for dealers only, of the “Decorative And Fine Arts Market Exchange” (DAFAME). Sounds noble enough! However, the best thing about 1st Dibs is it allows a dealer to be recognized as a professional in this industry.
The successful creation of some standard beyond any number of exclusive dealer associations is quite welcome. The standard for membership on any level in this industry is riddled with inconsistencies and just plain blather. At least eBay has a standard of measures for dealer professionalism. But the exciting aspect of this prospect is coming from 1st Dibs. Its foundation is having the best dealers affiliated to it, as the merchandise will follow. And, buyers have never experienced anything like this format; dealers can provide all the services, just like the (duopoly) auctioneers but without the deception, fraud, conflicts of interest….
A professional member of 1st Dibs is in a very fortunate place because the potential to suck consignments from auction is huge. The relationship between potential consigning clients depends on the speed of the payout, which can be slow under normal circumstances. But with a 1st Dibs option, that type of exposure is potent and has value as tool to sell and rent (yes, we rent at Newel). A consignor would have confidence knowing that a dealer can handle the process of selling whether stored with the dealers own stock or even if still being used in a residence, be it art, jewelry, or furniture.
However, the member dealer profile must maintain some form of measured performance in order to be able to evolve and get better for the buyers. I have no idea what parameters 1st Dibs uses to select or reject potential and present listing members, but they seem to have a pretty good handle on that capacity. They have maintained a stellar growth pattern of attracting legitimate buyers and professional dealer members (as well as serious investors too).
March 10th, 2013 by admin
Wake up and smell the roses, and how many different colors for the same smell. The decorative arts too have so many designs and forms that all showcase human development. I can’t image being overly specialized or minimalized with what I might be living with in my home or office. Perhaps those two environments might compete with a car or other form of transportation, but the home can and should be a place to exhibit an open and creative mind.
When you go to museums like the Metropolitan, Louvre, or the V&A, you are exposed to so many diverse forms of human creativity. Just recognizing a phenomenon in nature is part of human understanding about the world we live in. While there are as many diverse human cultures as species of flowers, I can appreciate or at least be exposed to anything that surrounds me. However, in a home I can share and live with what fascinates me. And just like a museum, I can be the curator, collector, and decorator. I might also need some help!
I forgot to add one major problem with my or anyone’s aspiration for a perfect and ever evolving home environment, yes it is money. I suppose there is a lot of truth that money can’t buy taste, but there is no doubt that it can go a long way to satisfy that urge. Nevertheless, adding that part of the equation into factoring how one wants to live can be a defining parameter. A good eye or a thirst for knowledge can be priceless commodities that trump money. It should be all about the personal pleasure of learning, understanding, and being able to pass on knowledge if you do it at all.
My whole business career has been based on learning, understanding, and being able to pass on knowledge. I grew up seeing this as the best way to enjoy and participate in the industry. What is more exciting is the exposure to so much diversity of what was created for the human condition. From Greek pottery to Lalique glass, furniture made for King Tut’s tomb to a hotel designed by Gio Ponti in the 1950s, the evolution and footprint of human creativity is in our DNA.
I hope human passion does not atrophy with the diversions of technology or the impulse to keep things simple and minimal. Our minds should be programmed to search for creative diversions and the home should be where it starts. I have been hearing a subtle call by interior designers and even in antiques shows to be more inclusive and open to multiple periods and styles of design offerings. I hope this whisper turns into a roar. Acquiring knowledge and a more refined sense of taste allows for diversity of objects in the furnishing of a home, which can open more horizons of personal possibilities.
January 21st, 2013 by admin
There is reluctance in the Trade, about being able to attract new and especially younger people as to what we sell. Starting with the image of the word “antique”, what might that conjured up in the mind of a smart-phone packing 20/30 year old? We’re in an industry that specialized is turning off the next generation of potential customers with intimidation, abusiveness, and attitude.
Gaining the confidence of this budding generation of customers is going to require more than redefining a failed image. It will entail reaching out to them and trying to accommodate their curiosity. We at Newel are planning to get in touch with colleges and programs in design and art history with the offer of a tour and exposure to what we sell. We want young students (as young as possible) to touch the inventory and see the diverse and infinite possibilities.
We recently hired a summer intern straight out of college and I know this person feels not only lucky to have a job not modeled on the “gallery girl” image, but on making a difference in the industry. I want her and the gallery to be a gateway to attract a younger generation as to what we put on the market; it can’t happen by deception, intolerance, and lack of communication. Everyone should be considered a guest with all the appropriate attention to detail and tweaking for assistance. Why would we charge admission?
I find the admission pricing at upscale decorative and fine arts fairs to be a bit confusing. Sure the opening night gala is “for the benefit of …” but at $500, $1,000, $2,500 at ticket? For Young Collectors Night, it is down to $175. Regular admission is $20. For most students, the $20 is not chump change, like it is for those who attend opening night. And while the Met is based on a suggested “contribution”, auctions are free and so are the dealers own showrooms (if you can get past the door). Perhaps it might just be an opportunity for show promoters to think about expanding their sites beyond those who regularly attend the same circuit of shows with the same stable of dealers.
I doubt that the influx of college age and inquisitive young people (under 25) would cause havoc among the staid vendors purveying their goods. Maybe an additional 10 to 20% bump in attendees could cause a ripple affect among our disenfranchised youth who might actually enjoy the event and learn something about what we do, and not from reality TV. If this industry wants the next generation to collect and decorate with our products, we need to make our merchandise something they can touch, understand, and covet.
People in our industry must be pro-active to survive. Art Basel Miami has evolved into a must be place of energy, sprouting shows of dealers. There is a buzz of style, trends, experiences, and interaction. The international generation of under 25 is ready and willing, but we in the “antiques” business have to be able to make the effort to open any barriers to entry.
January 6th, 2013 by admin
The AAD (art-antiques-design.com) website has quite frankly, been publishing some of my “old blogs”, which somehow I find really refreshing. They make me think that this industry faces the same issues. However, I enjoy responding to some of the comments on my blog and making comments on other AAD blogs. There is as interaction on the challenges for the entire industry of dealers, auctioneers, museums, and of course the need of living with design for the public at large. It’s not 1stDibs, Artnet, or eBay, but it is interesting and relevant for participants who wish to comment on what is going on in these areas.
I’d like AAD to become a bully pulpit for anyone in the art, antiques and design fields. The three are and should be interconnected and operate seamlessly. My incessant call for auction and even industry regulation hopefully will get AAD’s readers attention. Their broader reach can give anyone an opportunity as a sounding board for their perspective or cause.
With this in mind, I found something from several years ago that I never published on my blog. I responded to an individual who had read my blog and had a bad experience with a New York auctioneer (not the first I have ever heard…). This person explained their situation with the auctioneer and then wrote:
“Do you know, by chance, about similar cases? Where should I address myself to (I live in Germany) , New York State Attorney? Consumer Affairs? Is there any special body in NY dealing with “misbehaviour” of auction houses?”
“Thank you for understanding why I despise both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, as they both created a classic duopoly that has no restraints. They deceive bidders with a secret reserve, and fix prices with a non-negotiable buyer’s premium along with a seller’s commission. Conflicts of interest and fraud are created at their whim.
It really comes as no surprise, and I think you have recognized where they put their biggest investment, the lawyers…
Remember, these two companies have withstood a class action of $½ billion. My friend, the only answer for them is government regulation, like a bank or insurance company. Nothing less will prevent a level playing field for all participants in a public auction.
As for advice, you have a battle that they have fought before and they usually will wear you down (like insurance companies). Perhaps Consumer Affairs in NYC might lend an ear. But fyi, Mayor Bloomberg’s wife sits on Sotheby’s board…
Good luck and I hope you can persevere.”
October 25th, 2012 by admin
I guess if you live long enough perhaps you will think the impossible can really happen. Is the mighty shield of auction secrecy about to be broken; perhaps. It boggles my mind trying to comprehend the recent opinion of the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division rendering the legal need for an auctioneer to disclose the consignor to the buyer. An article written by David Hewett in the November 2012 issue of the Maine Antiques Digest is riveting.
In the article, it is interesting to note how at the 11th hour Christie’s is coming to the aid of the beleaguered middle level auctioneer William J. Jenack in a last ditch defense to overturn the Court’s decision. This decision is a game changer for cracking how the politically savvy, financially deep pocketed Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly will operate. The ramifications as to how the auction industry will function could be significant, for the benefit finally to the buyer, who has borne the brunt of abuse and financial fleecing with the current auction process.
Let me take it a step further. The ruling also gets to the heart of what auctioneers should be disclosing, and how they should operate under the Uniform Commercial Code. As I remember reading the Code, auctioneers are supposed to work for the seller, not anyone else. Disclosing who you are working for is all part of being a “public” auction. Interesting though, why shouldn’t the seller also know the buyer’s name, as the transaction should require both parties. Well, we can all get around these messy details buy buying or selling items through an innocuous Limited Liability entity.
The issue of disclosure within an auction process is really paramount in achieving proper pricing. Along with a secret reserve price, manipulation will always exist. However, this Court decision could do what any class action lawsuit has never done, and that is actually change a way they do business. We’re not talking about the duopoly colluding, but a measured change in how they must operate. Imagine both buyer and a seller actually getting a settlement statement that showed the names of both parties to the transaction along with the price of the item, including the amount of the buyer’s premium the auctioneer collected and kept, as well as all the seller’s fees and buyer taxes.
Perhaps this was something the duopoly knew would come at some time. After all, they have been moving head first into Private Treaty sales where disclosure is more attuned to how a dealer operates. For small and mid-level auctioneers, the requirements will mean significant paperwork and accounting. Might the industry move offshore to better serve their “clients”? I’m sure it’s a card the duopoly will plead, but what about the non-international auctioneers; London, are you prepared to benefit?
The public groundswell of discontent with auction methods has never been able to coalesce into any positive action that inhibits some of their suspect practices. Dealers and their organizations will invariably blink, and miss an opportunity or just run for cover. However, I have a renewed faith in the legal system as a means of interpreting and enforcing laws as they are written. Of course if the duopoly loses the case in the Court of Appeals, they and their lobbyists will just have to work on rewriting the legislation (again, to their benefit).
October 9th, 2012 by admin
This coming Tuesday, Newel is celebrating Jim Aman and John Meeks at “Open House NYC” and Newel’s re-launch Anniversary, and what a show we are having! Jim and John are combining their talents to create two special windows that ooze with style, taste, and a creative mix of our inventory. Funny, when they each did their own window for our first re-launch opening both had that same electricity. Oh, and did I mention the showroom?
Guy Regal and the collective team at Newel are using the extra large Crayola color box of fine and decorative arts at hand in the warehouse to imagine: “What if?” As I surveyed the items on the floor, I saw truly an eclectic mix of eighteenth through twenty-first century pieces. It looks like there will be a nice dose of Egyptian Revival, along with English Regency and of course, French Art Deco. I spotted some eighteenth century Italian and American mid-century. Neo-classicism, as always, wins the day, but I won’t rest until I get my Rustic.
Our show format has real possibilities and must always be refreshed and re-displayed as imagination and time allow. Today, many dealers lack the space to properly display their merchandise and have difficulty keeping it looking new; acquiring and maintaining the physical control of inventory is a daunting task. Whether by owning or consigning, it is treated in the same manner: with insurance and accountability as to what and where it is. Turnover is another matter altogether, having its own issues. Putting on a “Newel Show” requires something uniquely challenging.
Newel was born with show business in its DNA. We were born from it; Broadway was the essence of a “show” and we provided the goods for the stage starting in the late 1930s. This proclivity continues today with TV, movies, and window display. Our showroom now lets us have the same excitement as set designers, interior designers, or anyone with an imaginative visual sense. It offers an opportunity for Newel to redefine itself in a new 21st Century format.
Now that we’ve had a year to appreciate what we designed, (along with a new database), perhaps we can challenge ourselves to use these innovations more collaboratively and creatively. This should be where we really have fun and where the best opportunities of future growth through image and branding can happen. The space is now are stage to put on a show to entertain and captivate our clients!
September 28th, 2012 by admin
The split between the worlds of antique furniture and the decorative arts verse the fine arts of the 20th Century, seems pretty dramatic. One works well with the buyer’s premium imposed on the buyer, perhaps one might work better with just adhering to a seller’s commission. The decorative arts were never mean to evolve into a premium induced revenue source.
With the enormous glut of furniture in the decorative arts, taking a good guaranteed income of 20-25% (plus those optional expenses like photo and insurance) would make auctioneers hero’s to dealers and the general public. If I remember correctly, that’s how auctions use to operate for both the decorative and fine arts. It certainly will attract a lot of interest to any young person who wants to buy at auction. While I might despise a buyer’s premium, I would prefer to give auctioneers some good advice, it turns young people off to auctions.
There is a real history as to how the decorative arts have been up and down, from American Mission, to painted 18th Cent Italian furniture, and of course, Victorian. Throw in silver services galore. The decorative arts have really never had a bubble, but more of a reality check. The trendiness of the decorative art goes from Tiffany to Chippendale, and back. This stuff was made for a dealers market to support auction pricing. That is why the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly is failing in this area.
It’s funny to think that Sotheby’s doesn’t really have rug department anymore. Sales of classified French and English period furniture are now merged with 19th and 20th century versions. It’s a total breakdown of their control of making money in this area of their business. How many Yves St. Laurent collections are still out there? In the 1980s, both had some very successful operations that relied on the seller’s commission, PB84 and Christie’s East. Today, they would do phenomenally well. The incentive of not paying that premium would be immense.
What really makes only a seller’s commission compelling is the glut of furniture and items not really coming to auction. They don’t want to touch it for fear of not meeting the secret reserve price and not getting the item sold and out of their control. Well, need I say more, no reserve price! It seems like a pretty efficient way to start up the market but alas, they will never heed my advice.
As a dealer, I always felt the challenge to recognize a good buy slipping through at auction; but it shouldn’t be my responsibility to foot their bill. Every seller should expect to pay for the service of an auctioneer; after all, the Uniform Commercial Code of business in the U.S. (at least in my 1970′s college edition) is pretty clear that public auctioneers work only for the seller. There isn’t a discussion about a buyer’s premium.
However, the most important part of a seller’s commission pricing support would be the opportunity for dealers to revive the market. It was the case that dealers traditionally formed a support price for the market. In the decorative arts over the last 10 to 15 years, dealers have taken the greatest hit and these auctioneers know it, as their own bottom line in this area would now attest.
Auctions can and should stimulate the market. The duopoly should present this opportunity as a way auctions work best and were designed to do. At least with no reserve price the items have a better chance to sell and a buyer’s remorse won’t be an issue!
September 2nd, 2012 by admin
If any industry represented the total opposite of New Age technology, it must be the decorative arts, far ahead of the fine arts. In the decorative arts, the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly look as tired as their “fellow” dealers, no easy buck in either format. So where will a start-up attitude ever come from this present industry situation.
Welcome to Newel, and now let’s have some real fun! But the reality is that Newel is an old company, started in 1938 and is still doing the same things it did back then. We have almost seventy five years of rental experience but precious few knowing how to understand a market that has extensive auction dominance and their unsavory methods. We don’t quite sound like a candidate for the New Age. Perhaps, but what if the old company had invested in an infrastructure with a state-of-the-art data base, not like anything off the shelf.
We have developed a specialized and functional database needed to deal with a monumental and varied inventory, along with the critical tasks of documenting the storage location, movement, and tracking of these items. At Newel there is also a need to control the chaos of our rental business and the additional required logistics of this physical movement of the inventory. I might actually sympathize with Sotheby’s and their union problems. To be big should offer efficiency opportunities. The other critical part is that in the decorative arts, you’ve got to get your hands dirty; touching and moving furniture and small items is part of enjoying them and knowing your product.
A lot of investment in the future of my business has been based on hope and a prayer, but more from infrastructure limitations. The ability to operate with a large and diverse inventory presents many obvious advantages, but reinventing our way of operating can open up new and better ways to reach out to consumers. Technology offers a platform to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
I’m sorry to say “good luck” to all those dealer organizations out there, you are worthy of friendship and shared passion. I also think it’s time to put the Duopoly in our rear view mirror and move on. Auctioneers would desperately love to mimic how dealers operate (ever heard of private treaty sales). We are now going out on our own and I hope to instill an attitude at Newel that we must think outside the box, use every opportunity, and refine our operations. I want a start-up attitude.
The attitude of Newel must recognize that customer service is the most difficult area of responsibility. Taking on a client must mean making sure their purchases more than meet their expectations and the experience is easy (think Amazon). The data base is now present, able, and willing to support, without limitations how we can operate. Developing an operation with a staff overseeing the creative uses of the inventory will require more than just being a “gallery girl”.
August 29th, 2012 by admin
During the last ten to fifteen years, the decorative arts have slowly caught up to the Fine Arts’ insatiable appetite for the 20th Century. A generation of consumers has been fed a steady diet of this period and an older generation is downsizing into it. Our industry’s avoidance of any counterbalance towards other styles and periods are problematic and marginalized at best. Perhaps it might be a good idea to start afresh, with a new approach to a new generation of young people.
For instance, my son Jake has now worked at Newel for several years and at the tender age of 24 understands the need to develop a future client base with his peers. In some respect, engaging twenty-somethings is the greatest opportunity for the rebirth and rediscovery of the variety, quality, and functionality decorative arts offer. When young people come into the showroom and are also exposed to the upper floors of the warehouse, I sense a feeling of “what have I just seen”. The diversity of the visual experience rivals a museum, yet it is all touchable.
For some reason I sense the show format, with many different dealers in similarly arranged booths, doesn’t create an intimate setting to explore. With so many shows incorporating such predictable presentations with the same attendees, there is nothing new in the method to attract young customers. Why would they all of a sudden want to come? With auctions you have the same problem, but with shenanigans like secret reserves and buyer premiums. Explain that to a twenty-something and see how they respond, “you mean 20% on top of what I bid”!
Today’s 20 year old is not intimidated by what they see, but more inquisitive about what it is. I believe this is an important hurdle if this industry wishes to connect with future customers. With the explosion of TV shows that explore the buying, selling, and valuation of these items, people have become comfortable with the possibility that they can participate in the business and recognize that these things are approachable. For young people, involvement in the decorative arts might be a way to express a sense of individuality and knowledge, as well as making a savvy investment.
I would like to believe that the future in this industry is bright but it might be futile to try to indoctrinate an older generation. At the start of the 21st Century, modernity was crushing anything from the past. Our future is now in the hands of a new and younger generation who must be coddled and nurtured. This is our last and best hope and greatest opportunity to renew an appreciation of what we trade and how we can better operate. Is there any other option?