The debate over how to revive the antiques trade is ongoing. There’s a continual comparison to contemporary art. There’s also talk of how to gather up enough money for a celebrity, perhaps Betty White, perhaps Lady Gaga to come in and save the day.
On the first topic, let me say antiques are not contemporary art. Trying to make them like contemporary art or trying to make antiques shows like Art Basel Miami isn’t going to win people over. Antiques have their own qualities and intrinsic value. Classical music is not cool like Lady Gaga. Having her show up at a symphony might bring people in to hear her, but believe me, if she left at intermission, you’d then have a wider selection of seats in the second half. Maybe antiques are not the hottest thing right now, but these ideas can at best result in posturing. It would be like encouraging people to like art because it matches their drapes, or worse, Lady Gaga’s outfit. Sure, it might result in sales, but if all you want to do is sell, then why bother with antiques? Everyone needs insurance.
People may start to like antiques because they are green. People will love antiques because they are old- and inherently artistic. People like antiques because they are proud of the things they represent. People like antiques because they like history. People like antiques because they like stories, and antiques have stories. People like antiques because they like to collect and have things around them that represent the things and ideas they love. Some people like these things, some don’t care, and some don’t yet know they like them. We need the third crowd.
In my mind, being around antiques has been a pretty enriching experience. It’s that experience of the stories and the history that need to be promoted.
On the second point- the one about the celebrity- I have two words. Gary Vaynerchuck. You may not have heard of Gary, but he’s made a pretty big name for himself with an inexpensive video camera and some opinions about wine. Gary loves wine and talks about what he loves. From that he has had a best-selling book, appearances on late night television and numerous speaking engagements.
We have the idealized notion that someone famous will make antiques popular and everything will be better. Maybe it’s Lady Gaga, but for sure it’s la la.
A celebrity is not what it really takes. It takes someone with a passion for what they love and a camera to start talking about what’s great about antiques- the antiques themselves, not about decorating with them, or at least not as much about decorating with them. The truth is antiques have more air time than ever before. But is anyone talking about why they love antiques?
Now the one person in Post-War America who I think did have an influence on the industry was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I have a photo of a room in a middle-class Cape Cod home filled to the brim with early American antiques. This was clearly not a home of the one percent, but it was a rich environment, and one created by a shared love that really permeated the communities of America. A celebrity spokesperson isn’t going to be able to make that happen. Not Betty White, not Lady Gaga, not even Oprah.
What will help? There are a number of factors contributing to the current environment. Among them are demographics and housing-just a matter of what people can fit into their lives. Those factors we can’t do much about. What we can do is start talking to younger folks through their own communication channels, like Gary Vaynerchuck, and do so sincerely. Someone with the right delivery and message will emerge. I don’t want to say spokesperson, because to me, those days are over. Social media is about peers, and presenting authentic, not marketing-agency created, messages.
That’s where we have to go. Like another author who discusses social media says “Firstly, be brave. Be very brave. Take risks. Take action. And… be authentic.” Jeffrey Hayzlett