Michael Cohen, the new chairman of BADA has written a ringing challenge in the “Back Page” of the Antiques Trade Gazette in an attempt to revitalize that organization’s standing and relevance to the trade and the greater public. Certainly anyone trying to fill his new shoes would feel the urge to offer some (dare I say any) action that might help awaken the industry to a progressive and not resistant path. As the consummate “outsider” who’s only membership in the trade is as a 1stdibs dealer, I want to offer my thoughts on the prospects for his success.
First and foremost, Mr. Cohen understands that membership growth is paramount. With the last decade taking a devastating toll on dealer survival, and especially those with a “brown wood” stock, surely that one gesture should open some eyes of those still calcified by their own shortsightedness. If BADA can’t embrace 20th and 21st Century design, then their relevance will certainly over time be relegated to the trash heap of an inapt organization. As a case in point, think of how many new and exciting dealers with outstanding inventories have appeared in the last decade, stocking 20th Century or prior periods; very, very few.
If they cannot or do not find a way to cajole more members of any period and style, BADA’s demise will be a forgone conclusion. Those dealers that BADA has ignored or shunned for various reasons are now not dependent on the services of that organization. As a case in point, I can never remember any customer inquiring if my firm was a member of any US dealer organization. I never saw it as an advantage. It is my stock and personal reputation that is on the line, every day, with every client.
But having a strong voice that looks after industry threatening legislation is perhaps the most important responsibility and aspect of what BADA or any professional organization should foster. Whether it is legislation that hobbles dealers like the new English Regulatory Reform Act of 2013, which exempts auctioneers but not dealers with restrictions and disclosure of financial arrangements prior to an auction, there is a need for a strong advocate. In the US, Mr. Cohen correctly points to the “ill-thought out legislation on antique ivory” as a case in point. These are not just local issues but have broad industry ramifications that need BADA and other associations around the world to have a coordinated agenda.
Finally, I have to disagree with Mr. Cohen’s idea of the value added by issuing Certificates of BADA provenance. If you have BADA on your invoice what more of a provenance is necessary; is BADA going to create a data base of all sales associated with its members? This seems to be an unnecessary task for its members and one that is self-serving and really does not offer anything more than what is already available.
I wish Mr. Cohen much success (although I am not expecting a solicitation for BADA membership). I have been critical of BADA and American dealer organizations for their insular membership and limited vision. However, I fervently hope that all of our survival and future growth will come from our industry being more open, approachable, and acceptable to the public.