Mayfair is the historic home of the international art market, and remains perhaps one of the most concentrated art markets anywhere in the world. But change is in the air. Simon Fitzpatrick, a partner in the Art Law team at Boodle Hatfield and director of the Bond Street Association, both sponsors of the Brown’s London Art Weekend (3-5 July), looks at how the Mayfair art market is changing and how galleries are responding.
Mayfair has for its entire history played an important role in the domestic and international art market. From its 18th century beginnings with the rise of the auction sales, through to the creation of the first modern art gallery just 150 years ago, at its heart has been the pursuit of the high-spending luxury consumer.
Today, as in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Mayfair art market is a complex web of businesses that include galleries, individual dealers, overseas agents, aristocratic and high spending patrons, auctioneers, restorers, framemakers and much more. The proximity to each other, and to The Royal Academy, ensures that its future as the centre of the world’s market is all but certain.
But there are many demands on the limited space available in Mayfair, and at the moment the balance is geared more towards retail. The demand for high quality retail space has never been higher, and a prestigious Mayfair address is seen as a must for the world’s smartest brands.
A diverse streetscape is something that galleries should welcome. A seven-day a week retail environment creates new opportunities for galleries to engage with a new breed of consumer. New opportunities will also undoubtedly create new challenges.
Mayfair has, however, seen many challenges to its position over recent years. Other areas of London – notably Hoxton, Chelsea and Bermondsey – have all risen to offer important alternative art scenes. Yet the lure of Mayfair remains strong, and with the imminent arrival of Cross Rail that is likely to only increase.
White Cube recently closed its Hoxton Square gallery for space behind Piccadilly, and many overseas galleries have arrived, including David Zwirner Gallery on Grafton Street and, of course, Gagosian on Grosvenor Hill.
The limited space available in Mayfair is perhaps forcing the most rapid changes. We are seeing, for example, galleries moving from ground floor premises to upper floors. This could all too easily deter a casual visitor and will mean that they will have to work harder and smarter to continue to attract new customers and visitors.
A greater emphasis on community events in Mayfair is one way in which the gallery market is responding, and a good example of this is the Brown’s London Art Weekend (3-5 July). The weekend will see over 100 galleries in Mayfair and St James’ throw open their doors, with free special exhibitions, tours and lectures in the galleries and in Brown’s Hotel. Galleries whilst competing with each other will have to work more closely with each other.
And more than that; the art market will have to reach out to its corporate neighbours and look for ways we can all work together. Boodle Hatfield and the Bond Street Association are delighted to be sponsoring the Brown’s London Art Weekend. Boodle Hatfield, in addition to hosting a number of VIP events for its clients, will have staff on hand over the weekend – in their green t-shirts – helping visitors find their way to the various talks and exhibitions, whilst the Bond Street Association (www.bondstreet.co.uk) has dedicated its 7,000 subscriber magazine entirely to the Brown’s London Art Weekend.
Mayfair remains at the heart of the international art market precisely because of the way it changes and responds to changing consumer demand, to its neighbours and its vitality. The exclusivity of the area undoubtedly helps. That is unlikely to change anytime soon.
A full programme of events for the Brown’s London Art Weekend can be found at www.londonartweekend.co.uk.
Simon Fitzpatrick is a partner in the Art Law team Boodle Hatfield. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.boodlehatfield.com for further information. Boodle Hatfield has its own dedicated art law blog at www.artlawandmore.com. Follow the team on twitter @ArtLawandMore.