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FrontRunners: If He Can Make It There...

Sheila J. Gibson

David Lester has come to the Summer Olympia Fine Art and Antiques Fair in London to engage in a game of high-stakes show and tell. The Olympia fair features 408 exhibitors in two massive display halls, and Lester is comparing and contrasting it with the fair that he plans to launch in New York in September. “We want a breadth of exhibitors, large-scale stands. We want a bold, eclectic mix that we don’t think exists in New York,” says Lester as he strolls the wide Olympia aisles. “What you see laid out here—you can’t do this anywhere in New York except at the Jacob Javits.” The Javits Center will host the inaugural Fall Fair for International Fine & Decorative Arts (772.220.2690, www.ifae.com) from September 18 through 23.

Lester, who also founded the Palm Beach International Art & Antique Fair, says he is aiming to convince 130 of the world’s top art and antiques dealers to participate. There remains, however, a question concerning the interest level of collectors. The Javits Center is certainly big enough to match Lester’s ambitions, but some dealers fear that Manhattan collectors might be turned off by the less-than-glamorous venue. Also, the fair is scheduled to begin a week after the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which could place a damper on New Yorkers’ desire to shop for art and antiques.

If the New York show is a hit, it won’t be the first time that Lester has succeeded when confronted with doubt. Few believed in his plan for the Palm Beach fair when he introduced it seven years ago. “I was criticized for putting up a tent in what was considered a drug-infested section of West Palm Beach, where there were no galleries,” he recalls. Today, the Palm Beach fair is a robust, world-class event.

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