Lassitude: a state of physical or mental weariness; lack of energy.
"She was overcome by lassitude and retired to bed"
lethargy (c) listlessness (c) weariness languor sluggishness (c) torpidity (c) sloth (c) apathy
Even before the COVID crisis, the Paris antique market had been going downhill for years. The loss of the Louvre Shops, the closure of the Louvre bookstore, the disappearance of antiques in illustrated interiors, all signs of the times.
You can debate the causes of this change in taste. In my view, the major cause was money, as it is with most things. The antique market had grown so hot, and prices so high, it cut severely into the margins that decorators could expect. This in turn led to a change in style to modern, where ludicrous margins can be achieved. When "Piece of Brown Paper Folded Six Times" can be sold at a 2000% margin, why invest in traditional 16th thru 19th century art?
That said, we collectors want to preserve what remains. The days of dealers in the 9th arrondisment just buying from Drouot, taking the merchandise to their shop, and not even bothering to remove the auction stickers is changing. Maybe because those shops are closing. But it is still frustrating to go into a shop in the 6th or at the Marche and discover they know no more about their merchandise than I do. What value do they add? How do they inspire the new collector? In this day, only the best can be counted on to sell itself.
Compare these torpid marchands to a great dealer such as Steinitz. It is safe to say that in all cases, Steinitz's knows more about every item in their inventory than the previous owners could have imagined. This is their modis operandi. They discover art, not just sell it. Of course, not every item has an interesting provenance, but the high-end shops should make sure potential buyers understand the characteristics of a style, of building techniques and why an item incapsulates a moment of history. Convince them in a time of constant change, the past can be preserved and touched.
Which brings us to the Paris Auction house Kohn. First let me say that I like the people I have delt with at the auction, they are solid professionals. Although, I admit, they seem a bit bon vivant when it comes to attributions, they are not nearly as bad as Gallerie Koller. My true issue is I just don't like the niche they have come to fill. The function of an auction house is, naturally, to bring things to auction. It is easy to envision Christies and Sotheby's competing to obtain the best estates. They know fresh merchandise is the key to a successful auction. Kohn, on the other hand, takes a very large percentage of resales. These are good pieces that have sold at more or less provincial auctions, are bought by Paris dealers, then resold at Kohn with starting estimates 5 times higher than what was paid a month before. I suppose Kohn has a broader international clientele, but this level of brokering is completely unnecessary in the age of the internet. Most every sale in France, no mater how provincial, can be seen on either Interencheres or Drouotonline. Again, what value is being added by this resale strategy - by Kohn or the middlemen? Why support it?
For decades French dealers could be in the antique business without really working. They just acted as middlemen between Drouot and international collectors. Now is the time for change. The best dealers cultivate their clients and develop a network of sources. They bring fresh merchandise to the market, not just buy at the same auctions against a growing crowd of amateurs. They actually work, not scavenge. These strong dealers will survive and sustain the antiques business until comsumer taste changes yet again.
January 2021, morning in the 16th.