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?