Defying recessionary gloom, American International Art Fair had record attendance, dealer optimism and significant sales

Record-breaking attendance, stronger than expected sales and uniformly optimistic and enthusiastic dealers characterized the American International Fine Art Fair, ending its six-day schedule on February 8, at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. Defying an expected sense of recessionary gloom, good sales and robust attendance created a positive atmosphere throughout the fair as the 70 international dealers welcomed a record-breaking 3,400 people to the Vernissage, a benefit for the Norton Museum of Art. The fair welcomed back the museum’s involvement, which returned after a four-year hiatus.

Throughout the duration of the fair, which attracted a total attendance of 24,000, a broad range of participating dealers reported sales from $5,000 to $5,000,000.

Recently re-acquired by founders David and Lee Ann Lester, the fair’s elegance and stature returned as did the excitement and energy that was the hallmark of their earlier years when the show was originally held in spectacular temporary structures along the waterway. With the re-launch, the Lesters established a new model by combining elements of TEFAF Maastricht fair and Art Basel Miami. Like the Dutch fair, AIFAF is managed in close consultation with a core group of participating dealers. From Art Basel Miami, came the concept of adding a strong social component, comprised of VIP programs, receptions and private dinners to which dealers were encouraged to invite their important clients.

“Lee Ann and I, the dealers, the Norton Museum and the entire local community were pleased with the vast improved quality of the fair and the unexpectedly strong and favorable public response this year. It provides the foundation for making AIFAF one of the great fairs of the world each year,” said David Lester. “Next year, we look forward to adding several new major exciting components to the fair.”

During the fair, the Lesters organized three special evenings for the dealers and their clients. On Wednesday evening, a Dealers & Collectors Gala was staged at the exclusive Mar-A-Lago Club, the sweeping grand former residence of Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Thursday evening, The Norton Museum was the venue for a private viewing of the Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams exhibitions followed by cocktails and dinner. The festive fair week ended with a tribute to three prominent South Florida museum directors: Christina Orr-Cahall of the Norton, John Blades of the Flagler and Myra Janco Daniels of the Naples Museum of Art, held at Flagler’s new glass Beaux Arts Pavilion housing Henry Flagler’s private dining car, overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. The Norton Museum’s Bal Des Arts on Saturday evening provided a spectacular weekending event for local supporters and visiting collectors.