It depends on what you are looking for. While the antiques market may be fickle, it is still a very viable market, with a definite supply and demand quotient. However, the economic encumbrance of the present worldwide recession in consumer luxuries has had an outsized impact on this industry.
As a fragmented industry, it has always been impossible to present a solid business image. As the only viable duopoly in the industry, Sotheby’s and Christie’s have attempted to innovate within the limits of their ability make their own rules and spin public relations. Sotheby’s ability to make the secret reserve and irrevocable bid as plain vanilla deceptions comes to mind. But in the end they too are not exempt from the present attitude toward luxury items. Magnificent consumer discretionary items need buyers and we are not living in the world of the 1980’s, when wealthy consumers wanted to “accumulated” antiques and works of art of all periods and styles. Why has post 9/11 taste been so restricted to modernism, and not just for the wealthy?
The after effect of this modernism and contemporary art trend has been to distant the consumer from antiques and traditional art. The classic and opulent forms of decorative and fine art still seem outdated and somewhat irrelevant when juxtaposed with new, cutting edge forms of technology and living styles. Even more depressing is the fact that there is no one representative organization that has any ability to promote and enhance the image of the dealers and the merchandise they sell.
With that thought, it is the image of traditional art and antiques that needs rehabilitation for a viable future. Nobody wants a used TV that isn’t high definition. Will consumers want to live with decorative arts that are “used” too? The future for this market depends on what added value buyers will find in these items. Rarity, craftsmanship, and history are in the DNA of these pieces.
For there to be a robust future in this industry, antiques and decorative arts must be made to be perceived as relevant for today. They should connect us to who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. We need to make consumers understand and feel the timeless quality of what antiques can offer. They have both tangible and intangible qualities like nothing else. Changing the public’s perception and understanding of those qualities will determine if the industry will flourish or flounder.