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Lapada: the innovative antiques fair

Dealers betting on overseas buyers attracted by a weak sterling and a shift in tastes away from minimalism as the UK trade association mounts its annual fair

Anna Brady

The Lapada Art and Antiques Fair in London ©2014 Tom Mannion

For an association fair run on a relative shoestring, the Lapada Art & Antiques Fair (15-20 September) in Berkeley Square punches above its weight, thanks in part to the efforts of Mieka Sywak, the fair’s director since 2012. Previously associate director of PAD London, her move eased the process of sharing of the two-storey marquee where PAD sets up amid the plane trees a couple of weeks later, which enabled Lapada to grow stand numbers by 30%. Many of the 110 exhibitors at Lapada are one-person operations, so keeping stand rates affordable is crucial; this time, for the fair’s ninth edition, Sywak has brought in the private investment company Killik & Company as a new principal sponsor.

Lapada is one of the UK’s two primary associations of art and antiques dealers (the other, the British Art Dealers Association, or Bada, holds its own fair in March; a debate over whether they should combine is ongoing). As an association event open to all members, the Lapada Art & Antiques fair is eclectic, encompassing art of all periods, antique furniture, decorative arts, jewellery and antiquities, priced from the low hundreds to around £500,000. Some exhibitors are regulars on the international circuit; some only do this fair. Eleven dealers joined Lapada this year to participate in the fair, including London art galleries MacConnal-Mason, Jill George and Sphinx Fine Art. Regular exhibitors include Babbington Fine Art, the Canon Gallery and artist jewellery specialist Didier.

A fair composed solely of UK dealers might have cause to worry in the wake of Brexit, but, as yet, members’ fears have not materialised. Rebecca Davies, Lapada’s chief executive, says, “After a period of instability and uncertainty, many dealers have recently said that they have noticed very little ‘Brexit effect’ so far. Some said that more overseas buyers were spending thanks to the weakness of sterling, and some cited the return of American buyers, who had fallen away in recent times.”

Frank Avray Wilson, Talisman (1954), with Whitford Fine Art Image courtesy of Whitford Fine Art

Sywak, like many, hopes traditional antiques are on the rise again. “The minimalist design aesthetic of the noughties is done,” she says. “This is also noticeable in terms of fashion with many designers referencing the arts and design of centuries before, which impacts what people are buying.” Modern British art, she adds, “is still an area where I see real growth potential”, particularly among lesser-known names.

Fitting that bill is Whitford Fine Art’s presentation of several vibrant abstract paintings byFrank Avray Wilson (1914-2009), a little-known UK proponent of Tachism. Born in Mauritius, Avray Wilson studied biology at Cambridge, where he became interested in aesthetics. These works are from group of 50 bought directly from the artist by gallery manager Gabriel Toso around 30 years ago. Toso, determined to lift Avray Wilson from obscurity, sold four works at Brafa in January and will offer more at the concurrent Biennale de Paris and at the 20/21 British art fair for around £40,000 to £50,000 apiece—up from about £5,000 four years ago.

  • LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair, Berkeley Square, London, 15-20 September