Last year, the Naples International Art & Antiques Fair arrived with fanfare, an elegant preview night and valet parking, boasting five days of impressionist art, 18th-century furnishings, antiques, jewelry, rare books and prints — and not much competition.
This year it's not the only art show in town. And it will not be first.
The Naples Art, Antique & Jewelry Show grabs this honor. The new show, which opens Thursday and runs through Feb. 13, promises 70 exhibitors with treasures from the past 2,000 years. It's presented by the Palm Beach Show Group, which operates a similar show in that city. The Naples International Art & Antiques Fair is slated for two weeks later.
Whether Naples can support two shows, especially in the same month, remains to be seen, said David Lester, owner and organizer of the Naples International Art & Antique Fair.
"Dueling fairs are not necessarily good for the market," said Lester, who with his wife, Lee Ann, own International Fine Art Expositions in Bonita Springs, and have started 25 art fairs throughout the years, including in Hong Kong, New York, Chicago, Miami, Beverly Hills and Palm Beach.
"It tends to confuse people."
The Naples Art Antique & Jewelry Show will be in a climate-controlled, 40,000-square-foot tent, christened the Naples Exhibition Center, on an 11-acre piece of vacant land at 201 Goodlette Road South.
The second Naples International Art & Antique Fair, Feb. 23 to 28, is on Immokalee Road, at the Naples International Pavilion, a 65,000-square-foot, remodeled and carpeted former supermarket.
Scott Diament of Palm Beach is the president and CEO of the Palm Beach Show Group. He and the show group's co-owner, Rob Samuels, have wanted to bring a show to Naples for several years, but waited to find a suitable location. The Goodlette property and tent provided that, Diament said.
It's not unusual for an art show to be held in a tent, he added — even an art show with up to $1 billion in inventory, as will be present at the Naples Art Antique & Jewelry Show. The tent has air conditioning and heat, restrooms and generators.
"It's a very-high end tent. We have parking, we guess, for several hundred cars, maybe up to a thousand," Diament said.
As for security, the dealers put their wares in safes when not on display. Show patrons are checked at the door, and round-the-clock police security is standard. Diament believes the tent will possibly even create a special kind of excitement and urgency for show attendees, because it's not a permanent structure.
"There's something special and ephemeral about it," he said.
The show will offer an array of art for visitors to peruse, including Asian and European antiquities, Roman glass, antique Persian rugs, oil and watercolor paintings and English and American silver. There will also be an extensive selection of jewelry from dealers such as London-based Hancocks & Co. and New York-based celebrity favorite Fred Leighton.
Diament and Samuels also co-own Provident Jewelry, which has six locations, including three in southwest Florida. Their knowledge of the market is another reason the duo wanted to bring a show to Naples, Diament said.
Diament and Samuels operate shows in other markets, including Baltimore and Palm Beach. Rather than start the Naples show from scratch, they decided to schedule the Naples show for one week before the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show. This was done with the idea of giving the Palm Beach exhibitors a chance to also exhibit at the Naples show with logistical ease.
About 95 percent of the Naples exhibitors are also exhibiting in Palm Beach, Diament said.
"Naples is getting a super world-class international event that was built off the back of having such a strong showing in Palm Beach," Diament said.
If that sounds familiar, it's becau Lester had similar comments last year about the Naples International Art & Antique Fair, for which he was bringing dealers over from his own Palm Beach show.
Palm Beach has housed both shows annually. However, the Palm Beach Daily News reported a new look in Lester's American International Fine Art Fair there, with more contemporary items among the 68 exhibitors and lower price points.
Last year, Lester's fair drew 18,000 people, which he considers excellent for a first-year show. Parking was an issue at last year's fair, as overflow parking had to be directed off-site as the event was under way. But those issues have been worked out in advance this year and an overflow parking arrangement is already in place with a neighboring property, Lester said.
Also new this year will be the fair's overall atmosphere, which has been tweaked to have a more modern flair, with gray walls, gray fascia and LED lighting. That reflects what Lester said is an overall trend in the marketplace regarding how art and antiques are displayed.
"We're not discarding antiques," he said. "We're saying that even if you buy antiques today, you're putting them in a more modern setting."
This year's fair will have 30 to 40 dealers, Lester said. The inaugural fair drew 45 to 50 art dealers, and of those, about 20 percent earned a profit, 30 percent broke even and 50 percent lost money, Lester said. People who lost money aren't likely to come back, he noted, even though it's understood that it will take several years for them to establish a local clientele.
One dealer who attended last year's Naples International Art & Antique Fair and isn't returning this year is William Meek, who is co-director of Naples' Harmon-Meek Gallery with his wife, Barbara.
But his decision to return was spurred by questions of having insufficient manpower to properly staff the fair, and not because he had a poor experience at last year's fair. Meek said he turned a profit and enjoyed their exposure at last year's fair.
He added that he considered it "a little strange" that there would be two art fairs in the same month this year, and wondered if there might not be some repetition between the two fairs. Still, he considers the introduction of a second art fair in the same month to be a positive for the community.
"It's a coming of age for Naples, because you're supposedly not an art town until you have an art fair," Meek said.
Lester said the drop in dealers at the Naples International Art & Antique Fair also is a reflection of the market expressing what it wants. Last year, ultraluxury diamond dealer Graff attended the fair, going so far as to recreate its London store and put some $500 million in gems on display. They're not returning this year.
Lester believes that's because Naples isn't what he describes as a "big rock" town. Here, well-designed estate jewelry does better than rap star-style bling; residents prefer to keep their displays of social status on the subtle side, Lester explained.
He also believes Naples' art-collecting community is still developing, and that the spirit of friendly rivalry that often accompanies collecting hasn't taken hold yet. About 95 percent of the visitors who attended last year's fair were simply there to look and to enjoy what Lester called "cultural entertainment.""In my opinion, people in Naples don't spend carelessly. And they don't tend to be frivolous. And I don't think there's as much social competitiveness here as in Palm Beach, " Lester said.
Ultimately, Lester said he doesn't consider his fair and the Naples Art Antique & Jewelry Show to be in direct competition, going so far as to describe the Naples International Art & Antique Fair as being more luxurious and capable of attracting higher-quality dealers than the Naples Art Antique & Jewelry Show.
Since the two shows will have different dealers, different atmospheres and are likely to draw different patrons, there's no reason why they can't share the same month.
"Different retailers can serve different sectors of the marketplace," Lester said.
On the web:
Naples International Art & Antique Fair: http://www.niaaf.com
Naples Art, Antique & Jewelry Show: http://www.naplesshow.com