Creative Confessions: Five minutes with Freya Simms
CEO of LAPADA, Freya Simms, talks art fairs and antiques, the artwork she'll never tire of looking at, and travelling back in time.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF - HOW DID YOU BEGIN YOUR CAREER IN ART AND ANTIQUES, AND WHAT LED YOU TO LAPADA?
My first job was in the Bids office at Christie’s in South Kensington. My dream was to get into the press office – which I managed a year later. However, it was the perfect place to get a solid grounding of the business, working across all the departments, taking commission bids and preparing the auction book for some of the most charismatic auctioneers in the business. I then went on to work at both Bonhams and Sotheby’s on the PR and events side, until headhunted by a PR agency where I worked across a number of art and design fairs including AAF (Affordable Art Fair), Collect, Ceramic Art London and the Olympia Antiques Fairs where I later went onto work as Fair Director for 5 years when it was at the height of its success.
Next stop was to set up my own communications agency specialising in the art and heritage sector and clients ranged from Masterpiece and TEFAF to Philip Mould and the Mary Rose – Henry VIII’s favourite war ship! One day, I received a surprising phone call asking if I would consult for LAPADA (the trade association for art and antiques dealers) who had recently lost their CEO. Having been on so many different sides of the art market and becoming increasingly aware of the adverse impact of the government’s legislation on the trade as well as impending Brexit, I was excited to be at the helm of Europe’s largest trade association and in a position to fight for the trade I love so much. In addition, LAPADA with the Berkeley Square Fair had the best venue for an art and antiques fair in town!
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
That is such a hard question as my job is so varied! Perhaps what has sustained me most throughout the years are the people and their passion for the objects they deal in, as well as the ability to learn and encounter something new every day through the eyes of our members, who have honed their knowledge through years of experience.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM LAPADA 2023?
It's safe to say that we have been very busy at LAPADA, focused on reinvigorating trade association backed fairs in the wake of such a turbulent period for art and antiques fairs brought about by a combination of Covid, Brexit and rising costs. After a three-year hiatus, we are back in Berkeley Square for what promises to be the most spectacular LAPADA Fair to date, with a high calibre of existing and new exhibitors and an exciting line-up of partners. However, we are mindful that it is an expensive fair to do, as well as only being able to accommodate a small percentage of our members, so we have just announced our new fair in Birmingham – The Art, Antiques and Interiors Expo (AAEIX).
In addition, we have a campaign in progress to inform and engage Whitehall and Westminster in the UK art market and help them to understand the unique and historic position we occupy on the global stage that is currently in jeopardy.
WITH THE CLOSURE OF MASTERPIECE, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE FUTURE OF ART FAIRS LOOKS LIKE?
I loved Masterpiece - it was one of a kind, where art and antiques elegantly rubbed shoulders with all the finer things in life. I worked on it for five years and was saddened to learn of its demise, but was not entirely surprised. Last year many of the influential fairs ran from late Spring to early Autumn in the hope they would avoid another Covid outbreak. This resulted in some key events crossing over with Masterpiece (which held its original date) and with Brexit many exhibitors chose to remain closer to home. This clash of dates put pressure on dealers to choose where to exhibit, and on fairs to sell their space - and with spiralling costs there were always going to be some casualties.
It is also important to look at what is happening at the other end of the market, where both the Olympia and NEC Fairs announced cancellations within weeks of Masterpiece. The entire market has had a bit of a shake up, but from our activities at LAPADA and the response from dealers, I know there is a real need for vetted, credible and fairly priced fairs across the sector. There will be some phoenixes rising from the ashes, but fair organisers will need to be more proactive in attracting international exhibitors. Perhaps it is time to review the season in which London is at its most inviting. Traditionally, ‘London in June’ was the mantra, but perhaps we should look to autumn when we have the London Design Festival, Decorex, Fashion Week, LAPADA Fair, PAD and Frieze?
THE ART WORLD FOR SO LONG WAS TENTATIVE ABOUT EMBRACING DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY, AND THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC BROUGHT ABOUT A CHANGE IN THE WAY GALLERIES AND FAIRS USED DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY. DO YOU THINK VIEWING ROOMS HELP TO DEMOCRATISE ART, WHICH CAN OFTEN BE SEEN AS ELITE? HOW DO YOU SEE THE ROLE OF THE ART FAIR IN THE CONTEXT OF TODAY'S MARKET AND DO YOU SEE THE RELATIONSHIP CHANGING IN THE NEAR FUTURE?
There is no doubt that those who were digitally savvy or quick to adapt were able to prosper during the pandemic and found new ways to engage clients. The value for a work of art to be sold ‘unseen’, i.e. over the web has gone up by tenfold and the convenience and speed at which you can source and buy items has made it much more accessible for all.
WITH A WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE IN THE INDUSTRY, WHAT ARE SOME CHANGES OR TRENDS YOU HAVE OBSERVED IN RECENT YEARS WITH REGARD TO ATTITUDES TOWARDS ART COLLECTING?
At the high end of the market – the £1 million plus - young buyers are entering the market and buying Class A works by renowned artists from the get-go. This is new, traditionally buyers would start low and develop their collecting tastes along the way.
In the mid-lower end of the market, I am delighted to see younger buyers coming to the market to furnish their homes in a sustainable way – choosing antiques and salvage rather than brand new!
Another thing to watch and that will certainly impact the market in the coming years is the biggest generational wealth transfer that has only just started to flex its muscles!
IF YOU COULD OWN ANY ARTWORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Just the one! That’s brutal, so I’ll choose one that is many and I will never tire of looking at. I'd like the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence c.1425 by a trinity of early Renaissance greatness; Massacio, Masolino and Fillippino Lippi. I love the chalky quality of the frescoes and the rendering of such exquisite details showing contemporary domesticity, high Renaissance fashion, architecture and humanity within the confines of stories from the bible. It never ceases to amaze me that all this was painted on walls of wet plaster at super speed.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ROOM IN YOUR HOUSE AND WHY?
My living room – it’s a big open plan and light room with roof top views on both sides and packed to the rafters with pictures and objects I have bought, inherited or been made for me by friends and family (the real treasures)!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CITY?
If not London – then Rome! It’s romantic to the core. You can trip over an ancient Roman capital, come face to face with a Baroque Bernini fountain and eat and drink in some extraordinary settings, from coffee at the Pantheon to dinner nestled in the Borromini church. https://www.therooftopguide.com/rooftop-bars-in-rome/terazza-borromini.html
IN ANOTHER LIFE WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN?
Can I go back in time? If so, I’d like to be in the 18th century and be a kind of hybrid between a Blue-stocking and a courtesan. How fabulous would that be? If not – I choose writer!