What is the future of an industry that places value on the past? An aging population, receding diversity on the high street, and an evolving digital landscape cause many in the art and antiques world wondering who will carry the baton of today’s dedicated dealers, restorers, and storytellers.
Our editors spoke to 9 young professionals in art and antiques across the United Kingdom who are finding their way to market and bringing with them fresh approaches. We were keen to find out about their motivations, aspirations, and outlook on the future.
Founder & Director | Joseph Berry Interiors
Joseph Berry is a dealer whose remit is "the eclectic and bonkers." He presents a contemporary twist on the antiques market, with objects ranging from antiques to curios, natural history and taxidermy, alongside a splash of contemporary art. He prides himself on buying with eyes and heart rather than his head (unless the price seems unreasonable, then his head steps in).
Since antiques was not a family business, nor had he trained under an established dealer, most of Joseph’s learnings are the result of gut instinct, successes, and failures.
With Instagram as his key sales tool, Berry is a faithful adherent to the the digital church. He laments the diminishing number of antiques shops, but for offline sales he envisages warehouses or large emporiums becoming the future.
Founder & Director | Doe & Hope
Motivated by a love of storytelling and the mysteries of the past, James Gooch set up Doe & Hope in 2009. The dealership specializes in rare and unusual decorative antiquities from around the world, and Gooch is particularly interested in the atmosphere surrounding objects, or the invisible or intangible that lurks behind every interesting object. Dealing, says Gooch is "at its best, an art form, and the best dealers are artists at storytelling."
To appeal to a younger audience, the entrepreneurial and artistic Gooch looks for new ways to capture their imagination. Tapping into his background in film, Gooch accomplishes this by creating vignettes on Instagram: regular short films that present an item as part of a lifestyle, selling the idea, rather than the object.
Books Specialist | Forum Auctions
Max Hasler works as a book specialist at new-auction-house-kid-on-the-block, Forum Auctions, where he mostly specializes in 20th-century books. With over 6 years in auctions under his belt, he is excited by Forum’s approach to creating a modern, digitally advanced auction experience for their clients.
Looking to the future, Hasler points out that, despite the cliché that the internet is a great transformer, in the auction world this is particularly true. The emergence of the online market in the last decade has enabled private collectors to access auctions across the world.
"This will probably mean that we need to alter some of the ways in which we operate, to become more approachable and transparent. Collectors prefer being able to purchase items with minimal fuss and no surprises, so offering this along with consistent quality, you could stand to do very well indeed."
Founder & Director | Gemma Redmond Vintage
Gemma Redmond Vintage sells designer and finely crafted vintage costume jewelry, dating from the late 1800s through to the 1990s.
Houghton was attracted to vintage costume jewelry as it combines her two loves: fashion and antiques. She studied history at school and at university, and is drawn to the way in which antiques provide an insight into the past, "which you can own, touch, and experience in your own home - that's a very special thing for someone with an interest in times gone by."
Today, Houghton primarily sells online, but also attends fairs, especially in the bridal area. Despite the unpredictable nature of the antiques industry, Houghton is confident that there will always be people who appreciate original, uncommon items with a story to tell, which will keep the antiques trade developing and thriving. She gives credit to the Antiques Young Guns (a British industry body representing young people in antiques) for working to further the profile of the next generation of professionals.
Pro Tip: In the run up to Valentine’s Day, 8 of the Antiques Young Guns will be displaying the best of their unusual gift ideas across 7 showcases in the Mews at Grays Antique Centre, Mayfair, London.
Dealing is at its best an art form, and the best dealers are artists at storytelling.
Owner | The Parker Gallery
Archie Parker is the young man responsible for the 2015 re-opening The Parker Gallery, originally opened in 1750. The gallery deals in 16th- through 19th-century paintings with a focus on British art.
Over time, the young dealer found himself attracted to "the possibility for discovery" in early works of art, and at just 17 years old, he joined the team at Dreweatt’s & Bloomsbury, later to become the Head of Old Master & 19th-Century Paintings, followed by a stint as a senior specialist in Old Master paintings at Bonhams.
With a dramatic decrease in the number of dealers in earlier British paintings over the last two decades, Parker is confident that the space is ripe for a young, ambitious and entrepreneurial dealer. He maintains that the market for art and antiques remains solid. With knowledge and research, he says, a keen dealer can add value to work by discovering mis-catalogued pieces or offering privately owned works.
Founder & Director | D. Patterson Antiques
Self-described as a conservator of sorts, David Patterson’s mission is to find the beauty and historical significance in utilitarian objects, especially the unglamorous and sometimes the "not even particularly well made." Lightheartedly comparing himself to a horse whisperer for antiques, he cites an inspirational furniture restorer, who once told him, "You have to be a voice for those with no voice."
A year ago, the entrepreneurial dealer branched out alone with the support of the Antiques Young Guns. Since going solo, Patterson has sold pieces to local and international collectors, from London to the United States. His pieces have also been added to museum collections.
Patterson’s sales model straddles on and offline. A digital strategy, he believes, is a necessity for anybody in the trade, even the most established and well connected. "If you don’t appear in a Google search or on social media you’re missing out on customers." Nevertheless, he doesn’t imminently see the extinction of high street antique shops. In his experience, more and more people are looking for something for their house with imperfections and a story attached.
"The beauty is this: when we live with antiques, we become a part of their story."
Gallery Owner | The Piper Gallery
Megan Piper is a gallerist running a contemporary program from the floor below antiques dealer, Harris Lindsay, in London’s St James's district. Piper’s gallery aims to rediscover great artists who began working in the 1960s and ‘70s, but whose careers may have "slipped under the radar."
Piper began her career at the fine art handler, Momart, where she was inspired by a survey of the Birmingham gallery’s artistic program of the 1970s. In reviewing the commercial gallery landscape, she discovered a significant gap in the market. If young galleries were dedicated to emerging artists, and established galleries were dedicated to established artists, then there was space in the market to re-evaluate the artists who would have been exhibiting in the leading commercial galleries of the ‘70s, such as Ikon, an independent, not-for-profit exhibition space that was first conceived as a “gallery without walls.”
Looking ahead, Piper optimistically says that collaboration is key to survival. With property in London now so expensive, it's prohibitive for young galleries, so sharing spaces and taking a flexible approach to dealing makes for a more interesting, brighter outlook.
If you don’t appear in a Google search or on social media you’re missing out on customers.
Founder & Director | The London School for Scandal
Benjamin Smith runs the daring London School for Scandal, which currently features among its most prominent stock, a number of death masks. The pieces he sells, he says, are "unnecessary in reality," but exciting and provocative work doesn’t always have a practical purpose.
Operating on the basis that if he finds something pleasing to the eye, he will find a way to have it in his collection, his remit is broader than any particular era or style. He does, however, obsess over certain objects, which he describes can "get out of hand" (he is currently preoccupied with pharmaceutical species jars). But just as his tastes have have evolved over the last 10 years to where we are now, he is confident his style will continue to develop.
The future, he says, "lies with the tastes and passion of this generation, [so] it's in safe hands."
Owner & Manager | Woodbridge Antiques Centre
Owner and manager of the Antiques Centre in the picturesque heart of the historical town of Woodbridge, Natalie Smith deals in silver, jewelry, and household items. She also rents space to local dealers who cover a range of specializations.
This year marks the Antiques Centre’s 10-year anniversary. Smith is particularly proud of having weathered a financial crisis with a new business. Taking pride in her dedicated approach to customer service, Smith says it’s important for any small business to take the time to understand what a person is looking for, and to provide advice. She attributes to this her high volume of repeat customers, which demonstrates her strong relationships with her clients; bonds that she feels will help her in the years to come.
Find fine art, decorative art, antiques, and more in upcoming auctions including Thomaston Place Auction's 2017 Winter Feature Auction, Day 1 and Day 2 (February 11-12), Sloans & Kenyon's February Estate Catalogue Auction, Day 1 and Day 2 (February 11-12), Eldred's Winter Market Auction, Day 1 and Day 2 (February 17-18), Clars Auction Gallery's Antique, Art, Jewelry, Asian Art (February 19) and more.