As we do every year, TMT spent a good part of August in Santa Fe. We exhibited at the Whitehawk Antique Indian Show, as we have for the past 15 years (give or take--it's been a long time). It was a very interesting show, and here are some of our impressions:
1. People don't buy online like they used to. That's not to say that people are not buying antique American Indian art through online auctions any more, because they are. But some time ago, there was a question as to whether online auction sites would take a huge chunk out of the business of traditional dealers. The simple answer is yes--and no.
Five years ago, it was a common business model for someone to start selling items online and make that their full-time profession. It can still be done, but the market for the fine antiques we all love has proven to be more complex than that. In fact, the movement of sellers from shows to online has kind of gone into reverse, as high-level sellers has come to realize that nothing can take the place of a personal relationship between buyer and seller; we have actually seen a number of people who used to sell exclusively online coming to shows with their items.
There is still a healthy online market for items at a lower price point. But nearly every collector who is looking to build a collection of fine items has realized that people who know their material (and will stand behind it with both their reputation and their pocketbook) are the best sources.
2. The sky has fallen, but only a bit. In many ways, this Whitehawk show was the oddest we have ever attended--especially since it was the first one in years with empty booths. The economic conditions of the past 18 months have hit everyone, and our industry is no different. It was sad to count off the people who were not exhibiting this year, and while not all absences were due to economics, money was definitely a driving factor for a lot of people. A number of dealers who had less extensive inventories could not make the numbers add up, and sat this one out. Still, all things considered, it would not have surprised anyone if it had been worse.
3. The good news. One thing that was notable at the show this year was the overall quality. It had been a common complaint in recent years that the items at the Whitehawk show were down in quality. But with the other tribal and Indian show not being held this year, it seemed that most of the dealers brought their "A" game to Whitehawk. And those who set up at the show at El Museo, which was a general art and antiques show not limited to Indian material, also put together attractive and interesting booths. It seems that collectors in most areas of the antique Indian art market have some real choices now, and many are taking advantage.
The overall tenor of the shows was more positive than it has been for some time, which is hardly surprising. The art market in general goes hand in hand with prosperity, of course. It seems that most dealers who handle quality items have come through the bad times more or less intact, and hopefully better times are ahead for all of us.