Fairs Market United Kingdom

Masterpiece London aims to appeal to cross-collectors

Fair shifts focus to art and antiques but there's still space for sports cars and speedboats

Joana Vasconcelos's Blue Champagne, 2012, at the entrance to Masterpiece London this year. Photo: Rory Lindsay

As numerous fairs worldwide strive to make their mark, Masterpiece London, now in its fourth edition (27 June-3 July), has noticeably changed tack. The organisers have, in the past, aimed to draw a diverse crowd of collectors by creating an all-round “deluxe” experience, comprising classic cars, boats, wines and a trove of high-end art and antiques.

Now, the fair’s new chief executive, Nazy Vassegh, is adopting a different strategy. “We have shifted the fair to the core of art, antiques and design,” she said. “Luxury items take up 1% of the fair now.” Masterpiece is about “seeing great work in a luxury setting”, she said.

Daniel Boulakia of the eponymous Paris gallery (B31) said: “Art Basel and Tefaf [in Maastricht] are a brand. Masterpiece London is becoming a brand.” A key work by the Abstract Expressionist Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1976, priced at £1m, is available with the gallery.

Vassegh believes that on the fair circuit “there is room for everyone. We have a wider range of categories on offer than Frieze Masters in October, which is founded on the ethos of cross-collecting. That type of collecting is also at the heart of Masterpiece.”

James Demirjian, the co-president of a newcomer to the fair, Ariadne Galleries (D11) in New York, agrees that cross-collecting underpins buying at Masterpiece. “In our experience, some collectors are curious,” he said, highlighting several sales including a south Arabian abstract alabaster face, third to first century BC, to a European collector (asking price of £150,000). Sam Fogg, whose stand (D7) includes Romanesque carvings and Medieval Limoges enamels, said that crossover collectors “are everywhere. It’s the specialist collector that you should worry about,” implying that the latter are rarer today.

The timing of the fair is crucial. Masterpiece is preceded by the Impressionist and Modern auctions, a week beforehand, and coincides with Master Paintings Week London (28 June-5 July). Numerous dealers stressed that key clients are in town as a result. “It’s a summer fair for a summer mood,” said the Swiss antiquities dealer Jean-David Cahn (A35), who sold a pair of Lusatian vases, 1,300BC-1,100AD, to a Japanese collector for £40,000.

“The timing with the contemporary auctions this week in London is key,” said the 20th-century and contemporary design dealer Todd Merrill (A39). His New York-based gallery sold an intricate sculptural wall relief by Jennifer Trask (Burgeon, 2012), made of 3,500 animal bone pieces, to a US collector for $150,000.

Pride of place on the stand of Trinity House Paintings, London and New York (A36), is a painting by John Singer Sargent, which has been in a private US collection for more than 70 years. Cyprus and Pines, 1913, depicts a young cow-herder asleep as the sun sets, after a blazing hot day, on Lake Garda. A highlight of the Royal Academy show in 1914, it is priced at $12m.

An array of miniatures on the stand of Philip Mould, London (A3), also proved a draw. By mid-afternoon of the opening day (27 June), seven had sold and four were on reserve. The latter included Nicholas Hilliard’s portrait of a bejewelled m’lady of the Tudor court, around 1590. The watercolour on vellum is priced at £200,000.

Another big-ticket item, a bronze sculpture by Marino Marini depicting a boy on a horse, can be found on Robilant + Voena’s stand (B2). Conceived in 1937 and cast during the artist’s lifetime (five of an edition of six, 1972), the piece comes from a private collection in Monaco and is priced at $3.5m.

Masterpiece still lacks a critical mass of heavyweight Old Master dealers, such as Johnny Van Haeften and Richard Green, however. “I’d like to see more on the floor, but we can co-exist. There is cross-pollination with some major Old Master dealers. On the picture side, we’ve focused on getting in more Modern art dealers,” Vassegh said.

This year, 160 galleries are participating (up from 154 last year), with more than 20 dealers from the US, while around 50 galleries are new to the fair, a spokeswoman said. At the VIP preview, 6,000 visitors filed through, including the actress Sarah Jessica Parker and the editor of US Vogue, Anna Wintour, who was in town for the tennis at Wimbledon.

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