Antiques and art are not really so similar. While they both fall under the same industry category, selling these items seems to require very different approaches. As I strolled down the side streets of Chelsea’s West 24/25/26th Streets, I saw techniques and environments for selling art that just doesn’t happen for antiques and made for some interesting observations.
The places we see antiques for sale are not very dynamic or energizing. I can’t image how the Winter Antiques Show in New York City has radically morphed into a Miami Art Basel. To take it one step further, if you went to any antiques dealer’s showroom/warehouses, would they be places that feel cutting edge and vibrant in the presentation of their inventory? Granted, antiques are not new, cutting edge designs. They are a reminder of past periods, as evolutionary relics with an artistically decorative functionality.
One very interesting phenomenon of the art world approach to selling is the cache of the gallery. It’s a place of access into the art world and has a magical energy of “something is happening here”. I sometimes sense this in galleries that deal with late 20th and 21st century decorative design. These showrooms make a significant effort to treat their stock like it was fine art and not just an item to be used in the scheme of decorating an interior. That’s a big hurdle to overcome for the average antiques dealer, who doesn’t have the space or skills of presentation to show their inventory as a form of art.
Most antiques dealer with high end inventory try to showcase their pieces in the period and style look that conforms closest to the item. Maybe that is why antiques show look alike and have little variation. Edgy is off base. No one could be as guilty of sorry presentation in their showroom as me. It’s incredibly frustrating to show my inventory in long narrow aisles, on pallet racks, and piled on top of each other. The quantity of goods is overwhelming and mind boggling, which doesn’t allow for giving each piece respect and an impressionable staging.
This is where the auctions have a distinct advantage. Their inventory changes regularly and is usually set in an austere, uncomplicated space that can be adapted for any look. Traditional antiques dealer showrooms lack that flexibility.
However, the one place where auctioneers and dealers of antiques and art do have somewhat of an equal footing is the Internet. What you see on your screen is that object and only that object, with no visual distraction, sales person, or other outside influence. However, you can’t get any physical feel for the item. At least it’s a start for reaching an audience in an unobtrusive manner and one which every dealer and auctioneer should acknowledge is now an integral part of any approach to selling.