"There is still a desire to collect ancient art in Italy." Antiquarian Flavio Gianassi speaks.

How is the situation of the antiques market in Italy today? What about internationally? How has antiques changed in the last 20 years? Is it valued enough today? We talked about this with antiques dealer Flavio Gianassi, who has just returned from TEFAF Maastricht.

How is the situation of the antiques market in Italy today? What about internationally? How has antiques changed in the last 20 years? Is antiques valued enough today? We talked about this with Flavio Gianassi, who in 2013 founded and since then has been running his gallery FG Fine Art Ltd based in London, where he himself moved in 2005, although he is of Tuscan descent. The interview is by Ilaria Baratta.

Flavio Gianassi
Flavio Gianassi

IB. Let’s start with TEFAF Maastricht. You participated in this 37th edition, which recently ended, presenting a selection of Italian works covering three centuries of art history, from the Three to the Sixteenth Century: masterpieces therefore by Cecco di Pietro, Cenni di Francesco di Ser Cenni, Bicci di Lorenzo, Santi Buglioni, and Cosimo Rosselli. Was this your first time at TEFAF as a gallery? How do you evaluate this experience and, if I may ask, did you sell any works?

FG. For my gallery it was the first time: I participated in the Showcase section which is aimed at emerging galleries and which gives one chance for participants to present themselves at TEFAF and use this opportunity to get more visibility within the market. As my gallery this was my first time participating, however I had actually participated in TEFAF before when I was a director at Moretti Fine Art in London, with whom I worked until 2018. Instead, this year I debuted in Maastricht, at TEFAF in the Showcase section, with my gallery and it was a wonderful experience, although it was challenging to summarize my taste and work in a few square meters. I decided to bring ancient paintings and sculptures with important provenances or counterparts and companions in museums, in a minimal and contemporary presentation. I have spent the last few months doing archival research and preparing, with the help of prominent art historians, fact sheets for each work presented. Having said that, it was nice to return to the fair with my own name, with my own booth, and TEFAF is always the most important fair, at least for the old art market; it is the only place where curators from almost all the world’s museums, directors, collectors as well as art world specialists, who go all the way to Maastricht to participate and to visit the fair, gather under one roof. The fair went well, I sold a work and I have other things in negotiations at the moment.

So how did you feel about the 2024 edition of the great international antiques fair?

I have to say that from the lockdown and post Covid editions it definitely seemed to me to be the best. Even as a visitor, it seemed to me to be a fair with a high level of works presented. All the gallerists brought interesting works, with really well-curated booths; some booths really left one breathless. It felt like a return to a pre-covid fair, and although the edition was shorter, the visitor numbers speak for themselves: the fair exceeded 50,000 visitors.

His gallery is based in London, where he moved in 2005. After all these years, therefore, he has experience of what the gallery profession is like abroad. Do you see any differences with Italy in terms of participation both from the buying public and from institutions?

A presence abroad makes you perhaps a little more international, in the sense that London until before Brexit was the European capital and everyone was passing through there, so it was also easy to arrange appointments with clients in London. It was a much more dynamic city. Things changed unfortunately with the Brexit, which made the market more difficult and also made the city perhaps less interesting. One of the consequences, for example, was that a fair that was an important appointment before the summer was canceled, but also Frieze Masters that was held in October does not seem to have been a great success with clients, especially for old paintings; American collectors, who do not come to London very often anymore, were missing. On a positive note, a lot of exhibitions are still being held in London, so a lot of international curators are still coming through.

Cenni di Francesco di Ser Cenni, St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata Cenni
di Francesco di Ser Cenni, St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata

Have there been any changes over the past 20 years in the antiques field in your opinion?

Well yes, certainly the way of approaching antiques has changed from when I started working in early 2000-2001. Obviously everything is faster; there is perhaps more attention not so much to the artist but to the object as such, rightly giving importance to condition, provenance, any interesting history. Fewer and fewer perhaps are the collectors of specific periods, the “accumulators.” In my experience in recent years, the customer now approaches works of art in a very instinctive way, perhaps buying what “speaks” to him, what he likes and what manages to convey something to him, emotions, without taking into account more much of the trends of recent years, where there is a greater search for, for example, women artists, even in antiquity, obviously leaving out of the picture periods such as the ones I deal with, for example the fourteenth century, where women artists are not known (and most likely were not there).

Who is your average buyer? And roughly how much do you spend?

I think we have to distinguish between private clients, which by averaging are people who tend to be passionate about art, who buy art because they have the means to be able to afford and understand it, and museums who continue to buy. There are museums with very high budgets, others with smaller budgets, but still used to cover any gaps in the collection. To average out clients’ spending on artwork is honestly difficult, because it is very subjective anyway: it depends on both the work and the client; a client can range from 50 thousand euros to a million, it really depends on what they are looking for or what strikes them.

Your gallery focuses mainly on Italian Old Masters, particularly from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. To what do you owe this choice?

It was a fairly natural choice, first of all because these are the periods that are closest to me from a personal point of view. As a child, living in Tuscany, I grew up seeing this kind of art; it is the art that can be found in churches, in museums, in big capitals like Florence and Siena as well as in small villages. It was also a choice due to the experience I had in the past in previous collaborations, so it formed me. And then I have a passion for gold backgrounds, because I find that in their archaicness they still manage to be modern.

I was just reading in your projects that your research is always aimed at a connection between the past and the future. What is meant by that?

Linking to the previous question, let’s say that the aspect that I also really like about working with such ancient works is that of research, when it is possible to be able to do archival research to find out more information about the history of the work. In the end it’s almost like playing detective: you start from one piece to get to another to solve a mystery in a painting, and this is perhaps the most interesting aspect of working with ancient works, especially from the 14th and 15th centuries. But I always try to contextualize ancient works in the world we live in, in the contemporary world, so I always tend to present them, where possible, in clean, essential, less museum-like, less traditional contexts. When you think of ancient paintings you usually think of the palace, of brocades, of fabric walls, when however they can also be presented from an exhibition point of view in line with our times, so in a cleaner, lighter way. And then I always like to create dialogues, where possible, with works of the present.

Bicci di Lorenzo, Vir Dolorum between the Virgin and St. John the Baptist
Bicci di Lorenzo, Vir Dolorum between the Virgin and St. John the Baptist

What do you think is the situation of the antiques market today in Italy? And internationally?

I believe that in Italy the market is still alive, despite the bureaucratic aspects that can complicate the movement of works of art; however, there is still a desire to collect and surround yourself with beautiful works that enrich you both culturally but also emotionally. In Italy there are fairs such as the Florence Biennale, which I will be attending in September, which is a very important event for Italian art and which attracts an international audience as well; there are fairs such as Flashback in Turin, which I have been attending for four years now and will be attending again this year, which are part of an interesting context, namely that of the Turin Art Week, and which manage to attract a younger audience as well than other fairs. So we can say that the market is always active, it is not as easy and fast as it might have been fifteen or twenty years ago when I started. What is perhaps lacking in the antique market is a constant renewal of new collectors, new blood as I like to say, a blood coming into collecting. There are certainly young guys, young collectors who are passionate about it, but compared to the contemporary world it is always a limited number. We’re talking about Italy but I think anyway it’s a situation that also applies to the rest of Europe. Certainly European cities like Paris and Milan, but also Florence, have benefited from the Brexit and this is shown by the opening of new galleries, because they left London or because they had to open a location in Europe. And this was perhaps an opportunity, an additional opportunity for Europe to increase the market. I was recently visiting the Salon du Dessin in Paris and it was full of collectors and also curators from various museums. The desire is there, the interest is there. It’s all slower, though, but that also reflects a little bit in my opinion the situation we are living today, from the economic to the political situation, which in any case are not easy worldwide.

Sure. And in your opinion is antiques today valued enough in Italy? What about abroad?

As to say, we can always improve. It is valued, but it should have even more space, even more visibility. The Associazione Antiquari d’Italia is doing a great job in Italy. For example, with the fair they organized in Rome last fall: it was an important occasion, a beautiful exhibition that brought antiques back to Rome, in a new venue, that of Palazzo Brancaccio, after years that the Biennale dell’Antiquariato at Palazzo Venezia was no longer being done. There should perhaps be a little more attention from those who administer us to somehow facilitate the market. Find “faster” solutions for exports, for example. I don’t want to go into details; that would open a chasm. But here, though, let’s say we could get better at it. Because at the end of the day, antiques, although it is a small niche market, is still an important market that is not limited to just the gallery owner, it is not just the dealer who works, but around it there are so many other situations, there is a whole supply chain of other professionals, ranging from restorers to framers, from art historians to shippers. It is a sector of the economy that is important and should not be overlooked.

Let me conclude with the last question: do you have any particular projects planned for your gallery in the near future?

The Florence Biennale in September. That is my next appointment. I do not have a gallery open to the public in London, I work privately as many other colleagues have started to do in recent years. I work privately by devoting myself to research, contacts with clients, traveling to find works and visit collectors and museum curators, and the two/three fairs a year during which I make myself more visible to the public.

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