There has never been a time of such dramatic changes in the art and antiques industry. Certainly the last decade brought a steady diet of 20th Century in both paintings and decorative arts as a style trend, but the forms and methods of transaction have also been evolving. With the newest auction methods, the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly has reached new heights in their conflicts of interest built into their transactions.
Political influence aside, the ability to challenge these two “auctioneer” operators is beyond the ability of dealers to recognize, but primarily they lack any resources to make a case against them. It has and always will be the impedance of dealers and their organizations that has blinked to the auctioneer way. But the success of these and most thriving auctioneers has to do with the ability to create a business organization in a classic mold. It works for them because dealers never figured out how to create a company that has a management structure, and most of all a vision.
Working at Newel for the last 42 years (summer of ’69) has presented me a particular view of the antiques and decorative arts world. I’ve always assumed that I work in the backrooms of a crazy museum; a museum that exhibited its inventory, but to the stage, TV, movies, and window display. It also seemed that it was a big business that was desperately trying to stay small. The ability to grow was restricted by space, an incredibly diverse inventory, and how to sell it.
This year will begin a new chapter in the history and evolution of Newel. In the age of the little neighborhood antiques shop, survival has always been a challenge. Perhaps a little luck helps in being at the right place at the right time to make a find. But the opportunity to grow in this field has been like fighting an ocean tide. I do not see any signs in this industry that any dealer or group of dealers can rival the auctions in the procurement and sale of merchandise. Their methods relay on techniques that a dealer can’t create in structuring a sale. Just follow the money; and seller’s commission and a buyer’s premium. Dealers, try pulling that off!
For Newel, 2011 will be a year of trying to change itself, its image, its industry. Essentially, we are still the same firm formed by my grandfather. It was started as a prop house and people still think of Newel as being part of the film and TV industry. Yes, I would agree, but please show me another place in the world that has such an incredible diverse collection of quality pieces under one roof? That’s an image problem!
Additionally, the greatest challenge for me for this New Year will be to create more change in the antiques industry. The opportunities have never been so glaring. From a low point in financial conditions to a disproportionate taste biased to 20th Century, the future doesn’t look like those effects will continue. We will endeavor to operate in a way that will give the public an auctioneer option, for buying and selling.