A VINTAGE COMMUNITY

 

 

In some ways, Toby Ziff, who deals primarily in British ceramics and sculptures from the post-war period on Instagram, has been very lucky. When he first began selling objects in 2021, Ziff sent a direct message to Max Keys, another dealer with thousands of followers, and asked if he would be open to meeting for a drink. "I had about 12 followers, and Max was my idol," Ziff recalls. "Even though he was already an established dealer, he was like, 'Sure, let's go for a drink tonight.'" Ziff left the meeting with the contact for Keys' local delivery specialist. Two years later, the pair have become so close that Keys, now based in Paris, ships objects to his British clients directly to Ziff's studio.

In other ways, Ziff, who currently has almost 11,000 followers on Instagram, deserves all the luck he receives. Rather than cultivating an air of competition and scarcity with other dealers in his milieu, he has instead formed friendships and alliances with them. His inner circle, which includes Keys, Mario Kardana of M. Kardana, Milo Cordell of Open by Appointment, Gennaro Leone of Spazio Leone, Sadie Perry of Mantel, and Leah Forsyth-Steel and Victoria Spicer of Monument Store, own some of the most desirable and sought-after emerging art and antiquities dealerships in East London. But rather than compete with and backstab each other for clients, the group collaborates, trade contacts, and direct collectors to each others' businesses. "We can all eat," Ziff says. "If one of us does well, we all do well." 

 

Spazio Leone

Gennaro Leone

Inspired by design that experiments with materials, as well as bridges the divide between art and furniture design, Gennaro Leone sells 20th Century objects in his East London store, Spazio Leone. Along with pieces by legendary designers and architects such as Pierre Cardin, Afra and Tobia Scarpa, and Gae Aulenti, Leone also collects works by unknown artists and designers that are marked by a sophisticated, muted aesthetic informed by Italian modernism.

Monument

Leah Forsyth-Steel and Victoria Spicer

A creative partnership between New Zealand natives Leah Forsyth-Steel and Victoria Spicer, Monument is a London-based business that sells objects ranging from Carrara marble tables to steel chairs inspired by Gerrit Rietveld. The pair's aesthetic, which is informed by previous experience working in museum curation, set design, and film production, is imbued with gravitas.The pair is especially drawn to materials such as marble, hardwoods, and cast iron that age well and can be used for a very long time.

M. Kardana

Mario Kardana

From a storefront on Hackney Road in London's East End, Mario Kardana sells a curated collection of 20th century furniture and artwork that includes postmodern and brutalist designs. Kardana, who grew up going to auction houses and antique fairs with his parents, is drawn to objects that are not only beautiful, but relate to each other in terms of form, color, and line. 

Open by Appointment

Milo Cordell

The collection of objects sold at Open by Appointment, an East London furniture store run by Milo Cordell, is marked by pops of color, unusual finishes and strong, organic lines. Influenced by Memphis design, surrealism, and biomorphic abstraction, Cordell's aesthetic is both playful and erudite.

 

The friend group is a glimpse into a new, post-pandemic gallery world where rather than compete, gallerists form strong, trusting alliances that lead to better business for everyone. "If an interior designer comes to me, and I don't have what they're looking for, I can say to them, 'Well, I know Mario Kardana's got it,' and I'll give them his address," Ziff says. 

Ziff still considers himself an outsider in the art world despite his success. His parents, who raised him in Yorkshire, liked nice things but were more likely to buy from Zara Home than from a dealer. A long-time aficionado of films, and especially the work of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, which he notes informed his aesthetic, Ziff began collecting objects about three years ago after spending most of his professional life working as a freelance photographer. Ziff primarily collects ceramics and sculptures made by post-war British artists. "I completely got the collecting bug," he says. "It got to the point where I was just spending way too much money, and I couldn't justify buying more for myself." Inspired by Keys and Perry, who he didn't know personally yet, he set up an Instagram account and began selling his discoveries to clients. "I didn't know anything about art," he says. "I just bought things that appealed to me."

 

 

Spazio Leone

Monument

Monument

  

Ziff called his dealing business "Two Poems" after the poetry section in The Paris Review. To grow his business, he spends up to fifteen hours a day looking for objects he loves at antique markets, auction houses, estate sales, and online on sites like eBay. When he's not on the hunt, he reads every auction catalog, monograph, and art magazine he can get his hands on. "I work my ass off to find things, but it's a joy because the feeling is like a drug when you see an object you want," he says. "Absolutely, stealing my heart is what drives me."

Most of the people Ziff has formed professional alliances with also started their careers as outsiders. Often, the relationships begin on Instagram, but meeting in person is necessary for growth. "It helps guarantee that everyone has good intentions when you're sitting down together," he says. For example, Ziff began following the Monument store on Instagram. He admired Forsyth-Steel and Spicer's work, so he invited them out for coffee. It turned out that they had no relationships with other dealers and had so many questions about the business. "You have all these like weird, niche things that happen to you that only someone who's in the trade would understand," Ziff says. The coffee date was emotional. "They were like, 'This is so beautiful,' Ziff relays. " We had only ourselves to talk to, and now we have you.'" The pair have since become integral parts of Ziff's circle of friends and colleagues.

 

 

Spazio Leone

Monument

M. Kardana 

 

The collective of friends has considered opening a physical space together where they could each have a booth. While this hasn't happened yet, Ziff notes that it's likely inevitable. "We want to create a sort of Dover Street Market where the curation level is so high," he says. In the meantime, Ziff recently opened a By Appointment Only atelier. "Often, people come and stay for hours," he says. "It doesn't matter if they're buying or not. It's just lovely to meet clients."

He hopes to expand his knowledge base ‚ÄĒ and his business. "I love French Art Deco modernism, but I don't have the sort of client who will buy a lamp for ¬£10,000," he says. In the meantime, he's enjoying the place he's currently at and the friendships he has forged. "I'm an open book," he says. "I have an abundance mindset."

 

 

ÔĽŅOpen By Appointment

Monument

Open By Appointment

 

Cover image from Monument

Photography throughout by Toby Ziff

 

Kardana | Mario Kardana | @mkardana_ |  www.mkardana.com | London 

Monument |  Leah Forsyth-Steel and Victoria Spicer | @monument_store | www.monumentstore.co.uk | London

Open by Appointment | Milo Cordell |  @open_by_appointment | London

Spazio Leone | Gennaro Leone | @spazioleone | ww.spazioleone.com | London