Glamorous, imaginative, fresh, unashamedly expensive and just a bit OTT – ‘Masterpiece London’ is back for a third time.
The 2012 Masterpiece fair runs from June 28 to July 4, with a preview on June 27, in the same location as last year, a pretty phenomenal marquee with a red-brick facade on the South Grounds of The Royal Hospital Chelsea in London.
The fair launches the second wave of the now-divided London June season for art and antiques, opening its doors ten days or so after Olympia and Art Antiques London close theirs, but in time for the capital's major art sales in the auction rooms.
Masterpiece is essentially a dealer-organised fair, co-founded by the furniture dealers Harry Apter of Apter Fredericks, Giles Hutchinson Smith of Mallett, Thomas Woodham-Smith (who was also at the time at Mallett), Simon Phillips of Ronald Phillips and the president of Dutch stand builders Stabilo, Harry van der Hoorn.
Nicola Winwood, formerly at Grosvenor House, is fair director and joining this year is the art adviser Philip Hewat-Jaboor, who takes on the two-year role of non-executive chairman from Thomas Woodham-Smith.
Thomas's infectious zeal will now be channelled into his new position as creative director, concentrating on the future direction and vision of this work in progress - or adding the pixie dust and magic as he puts it.
Part of this vision has always been that the event should break the mould of the traditional antiques fair - the fusty, fuddy-duddy image - and make it into a glamorous experience, fusing art and antiques with wine, classic cars, jewellery and hospitality from Caprice Holdings in order to attract a new and younger audience, particularly those City folk with bonuses burning a hole in their Savile Row pockets.
So to what extent has it succeeded in these aims in its first couple of years?
It certainly looks the part and pulls in the punters (an impressive 28,500 last year), many of whom would not normally frequent an antiques fair, adding to a vibrant and optimistic buzz so often lacking at these events.
But the cold, hard question of sales across the board is a more difficult issue.
Last year while sales of modern art and jewellery, for instance, were strong, dealers in other areas such as period furniture or with stock of a more academic appeal often struggled.
Paying for the costly structure and stand build, lavish entertainment and marketing make it an expensive fair to take part in.
Now, exhibitors need to start seeing some serious financial return if they are to keep signing up for it, however much they are keen to see the event succeed as London's answer to a truly top-end and international art and antiques fair - a 'mini-Maastricht' as it is so often dubbed.
For the first two events, Masterpiece's marketing avoided that word 'antiques' like the plague, instead repeatedly referring to 'the best of the best', a rather elusive slogan which irritated a few exhibitors and perplexed some of the public.
"We all felt rather chastised by the fact that a lot of people didn't know what Masterpiece was actually selling," says Thomas Woodham-Smith.
"Antiques can be a tricky word with negative connotations - no one wants to be described as 'an antique' for instance.
"But it is what we do and we decided we had better just face up to it - we're proud of the range of stock and exhibitors and don't want any of them to feel undervalued."
Hence the redesign of the 2012 marketing material to incorporate the simple tagline 'Art Antiques Design' - undoubtedly an improvement.
So what else is new for Masterpiece 2012?
"The fair is roughly the same size this year, but part of the Masterpiece philosophy is never to do the same thing twice," says Thomas.
"So this year we have changed the restaurants around a bit - Harry's Bar will now be in a more intimate space to one side and the large bar down the centre will be occupied by the seafood restaurant Scott's - and we have brought in a wider range of contemporary design, with displays of contemporary pieces from the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, Based Upon and the Design Museum."
Gagosian Gallery, the world's largest dealer in modern and contemporary art, also take part for the first time, apparently creating a 'special project' which they are so far keeping very tight-lipped about.
The American decorator Jamie Drake and the London-based property developers and designers Candy & Candy will both be creating room sets that fuse old and new, mixing designs from different periods to show how they can be effectively combined.
Although he is aware thatMasterpieceare hardly pioneering such an approach, Thomas hopes: "We can promote the idea that design doesn't have to be from just one particular period or discipline and encourage people to take a bolder, more expansive approach to collecting and furnishing. A commercial art fair can play a didactic role and be part of a wider process of changing tastes."
But he is keen to stress that despite these shows of contemporary design and an influx of new exhibitors of Modern British and contemporary art dealers: "There is a perception that we're only interested in the 20th and 21st centuries, which we're absolutely not - around 75-80% of our exhibitors deal in traditional decorative arts and furniture and this is still at the core of the event."
Looking at the figures, the fair is a touch larger this year, with the latest official figure being 'over 160 exhibitors' compared to approximately 151 in 2011 and 118 at the first event. There is a pretty high turnaround of exhibitors within that too, with 41 new dealers at the last count for 2012, including a few TEFAF regulars.
There is a more global flavour this year, and what's distinctive about the new sign-ups is the number of international, particularly American, dealers debuting - the fair has an American committee for the first time to foster transatlantic relations, with co-chairs including the designer Rose Tarlow, who is treated with the reverence of a visiting dignitary on her buying trips to fairs.
New American dealers this year include The Silver Fund, Sperone Westwater, Siegelson, Collisart LLC, Geoffrey Diner Gallery, Fred Leighton, Sebastian + Barquet, and The Merrin Gallery, Inc.
There are also a handful of Italians (Chiale Antiquariato, Alberto Di Castro, Galleria Cesare Lampronti, Il Quadrifoglio and Riccardo Bacarelli) alongside some Munich-based exhibitors (Hemmerle, Röbbig München and Rudigier Alte Kunst) and a couple of Parisians (Applicat-Prazan and Pascal Izarn).
Belgian dealer De Backker Medieval Art, Oslo-based art gallery Kaare Berntsen, Spanish jeweller Deborah Elvira and Zurich clock specialist Richard Redding Antiques also join.
But the majority of first-timers are London-based, predominantly art galleries, including James Hyman Gallery, Christopher Wood Gallery, Waterhouse & Dodd Ltd, Whitfield Fine Art, Crane Kalman and Aktis Gallery. Eclectic art and design dealer Peter Petrou, carpets dealer C. John and, adding to the 'boys toys' appeal of the fair, Harley Davidson dealership Shaw Speed & Custom from East Sussex also add to the mix.
And the regular dealers? They include London names such as art dealers Dickinson, Agnew's, Offer Waterman, MacConnal-Mason and Osborne Samuel, as well as a clutch of period furniture dealers including Peter Lipitch, Anthony Fell, Butchoff and Ronald Philips.
A personal favourite are the stylishly designed stands of the antiquities specialists, among them Londoners Rupert Wace and Charles Ede, New York's Safani Gallery and Switzerland's Cahn International.
Repeat attendances in other areas include sculpture and works of art dealers Tomasso Brothers Fine Art (Leeds) and Univers du Bronze (Paris); London-based Asian dealers Jacqueline Simcox, Jorge Welsh Oriental Porcelain & Works of Art and Susan Ollemans; N.&I. Franklin of London with silver; London clock dealer Anthony Woodburn and Adrian Sassoon, also from London, who chooses his contemporary pieces of British studio ceramics, glass and metalwork for this fair.
That's the art and antiques, but luxury goods are, as mentioned earlier, a big part of this event.
Big cars and big rocks are back again, with jewellery from Wartski, Hancocks and Symbolic & Chase, as well as some pretty sexy horsepower from the likes of Rolls-Royce and Duncan Hamilton & Co with historic cars.
Ruinart are Masterpiece's champagne partners for the second year and will take a stand too, exhibiting portraits by the Israeli-born artist Gideon Rubin, which are painted onto old Ruinart presentation boxes.
The glitzy Masterpiece London Midsummer Party takes place this year on Thursday, June 28, in aid of the cancer charity CLIC Sargent.
• Dealers Trinity House will be exhibiting Portrait of an Age: John Singer Sargent and Paul César Helleu at Masterpiece 2012. As the Summer fair season kicks in, they will also be staging concurrent exhibitions of Impressionist, post-Impressionist, Modern British and 19th century works in their permanent galleries at 50 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London W1S 1AY and 24 East 64th Street, between 5th and Madison Avenue, New York 10065.