Magazine article The Spectator

The Pomposity of It All

Magazine article The Spectator

The Pomposity of It All

Article excerpt

What is it about Grosvenor House? For years, the pre-eminent British fine art and antiques fair has failed to elicit much in the way of expectant anticipation in this particular visitor. If anything, the prospect of preview day has come to fill me with a mild sense of gloom. Is it simply that the value of works of art these days precludes most dealers from holding back a single great object to unveil to universal gasps of admiration? Not so long ago, dealers vied to deliver the ultimate coup de theatre.

The problem with Grosvenor House, I suspect, is not the dearth of masterpieces or the familiarity of some of the most valuable exhibits (in these respects, Grosvenor House is no different from any of the other fairs on the international circuit). It is not even all that oh-so-polite brown English furniture. It is the predictability and pomposity of it all. Like many another hallowed institution, Grosvenor House has got stuck in a time warp, and after 40 years is perpetuating an essentially bourgeois, Fifties notion of what constitutes good taste. It is as though the powers that be believe that we are still attending the likes of Harry Enfield's Mr Cholmondeley-Warner's excruciating dinner parties where conversation is stilted, the womenfolk know their place and no one has a good time.

Too much here is discreet, understated, safe - even if it happens to be Chinese, Russian or 20th century. Most of the dealers with a taste for the grandiose, flamboyant or unexpected, or who presented their objects with imagination and flair, have stopped exhibiting. Thank heavens some of them hang on in. Of course, it may well be that the social claustrophobia suggested by all these well-behaved antiques is exacerbated by the cramped stands and aisles of Grosvenor House's subterranean former ice-rink. How different it all might feel if the fair were staged at Burlington House. It might even attract better paintings too.

Over the decades, Grosvenor House has come to rest on past laurels and allowed itself to be beguiled by all that pomp and circumstance and royal patronage. While its energetic organiser is far from complacent, and is endlessly attempting to expand the range and appeal of the fair, another of the executive committee can describe Grosvenor House in this year's publicity as `the most important international fair for the decorative arts in the world today'. Where has he been for the last decade? Obviously not in Maastricht, Paris or New York. Even Olympia, Grosvenor House's traditional poor relation, now wows its audience with the likes of 1. …

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