Market Maastricht Netherlands

Bright young things who want to sell you older art

The fast and fashionable contemporary scene is not for everyone

Twenty-something dealers Ben Hunter (above), Charis Tyndall and Lawrence Hendra (below) are staking their futures on the art of the past

Think of a 20-something working in the commercial art world and the image of an Armani-clad, coiffed and cool “gallerina” selling cutting-edge contemporary art in Manhattan comes to mind. But a crop of young specialists, working in London with objects from antiquities to the 20th century, suggests an alternative view.

“I think perhaps it is advantageous as a young dealer to operate in a market that is slightly less glamorous,” says Ben Hunter, 27, an expert in 19th- and early 20th-century art who works at Bowman Sculpture in London. “I enjoy having the luxury of historical perspective when assessing the works we buy and sell.”

It is a sentiment echoed by many of his contemporaries. “The advantages come down to individual preferences, but I feel closer to history and part of a more tangible reality [in this field],” says Lawrence Hendra, 25, an associate director with the portrait specialist Philip Mould.

There is also some relief to be found in working in a world that feels less cut-throat than the fast-paced, hard commercial environment of contemporary art. Charis Tyndall, 24, who works as a specialist for the antiquities gallery Charles Ede in London, says that, at the top level, “there are only around two dozen dealers in our field in the world, and although there are rivalries, there is generally friendliness. We see each other at the same art fairs and auctions, and have one passion in common.”

There are other advantages, too. “We don’t have to deal with living artists,” Tyndall says, only half-joking. “We can decide how we want to display things and what we want to say about them.”

Nevertheless, all acknowledge that there is work to be done in making their specialities more engaging, in a way that contemporary art—with its highly fashionable status—seems to command. “There is a greater audience for contemporary art and people spend more money on it. So from the word go, it’s harder to attract new buyers into our field,” Hunter says. There is an additional challenge in the antiquities field, Tyndall says, where issues relating to provenance can slow down a business that is already tarnished by “unfounded, incorrect, politically motivated” stories.

Part of the charm offensive involves attracting young academics into the commercial sphere. Hendra says there is a sense that the galleries for older art, often invisible on the high street, are not hiring, which needs to be overcome. Some dealers appear to have taken this on board, and are casting their nets beyond the family members who have traditionally joined the older-art trade. Philip Mould, who initially took Hendra under his wing as an intern during the school holidays, says this is something that he feels “evangelical” about. “There are very few young people coming through with the acumen and patience to understand older art, plus a sense of commerce,” Mould says, but when you find them, “it sounds like a cliché, but you learn from them too”.

The young entrants also feel confident in their chosen area, which arguably offers greater job security than the merry-go-round that is the contemporary art market. “The antiquities tradition has flourished for centuries,” Tyndall says. Hendra agrees. “I’m staking my career on [Old Masters], if I didn’t believe in this market, I would have to retrain as a plumber.”

Charis Tyndall and Lawrence Hendra
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10 Mar 15
16:55 CET


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