“All and sundry should be encouraged to come and bring their cheque books,” Apter, also of Apter Fredericks tells ATG weeks before the fair opens on the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. “There’s lots there for everyone. Not everything is seven figures.”
Masterpiece is indeed known for the selection of big-ticket items it offers. Both expansive and expensive, it has emphasised luxury since its inaugural run in 2010 with the inclusion of restaurants such as Le Caprice (accepting bookings now) and The Ivy as well as a parade of high-end sponsors and partners led by the Royal Bank of Canada.
And it has won the approval of many dealers, who mention it in the same breath as TEFAF and the Winter Antiques Show in the calendar of leading international events.
Now that it has made its mark, organisers are determined to keep enlarging its audience despite recent turbulence behind the scenes. It is the first edition to take place since the departure of Nazy Vassegh, director since 2013, late last year, and follows the Stanley Gibbons Group’s sale of its stake back in May.
Now the day-to-day running of the fair is co-ordinated by a small organising body, which includes, but is not driven by, chairman Philip Hewat-Jaboor. The team, it seems, has continued to innovate around the running of the fair, pushing to make it ever more visually spectacular while expanding its democratic appeal.
The transformation of the entrance-way promises to be the most noticeable physical change this year. All the sponsors’ stands, which previously lined the entry-way of the marquee, have been pushed back into the main body of the fair to make room for a large-scale installation by Chilean artist Iván Navarro.
The work was commissioned for the fair by first-time exhibitor Paul Kasmin Gallery and, the hope is, it will contribute to an all-round positive buying experience.
But there are also other efforts to further democratise the fair, making it more accessible to new visitors and, importantly, new buyers. Among the efforts, Apter says, is Hewat-Jaboor’s ongoing drive to get all exhibitors showing prices on their tickets, a way to broaden the appeal of the experience to new buyers.
“In this day and age, people want information and they want it now,” Apter says. “People need to get price information right away and it softens the old-fashioned image of the art fair.” The effort is ongoing.
Around 150 dealers will stand this year. Among them are more than 25 first-time exhibitors including Gregg Baker Asian Art, modern and contemporary British art dealer Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert and Old Master specialist Derek Johns.
Another new exhibitor is Errol Manners of E&H Manners, previously a stalwart of Art Antiques London – thanks in part to its origin as a ceramics fair – until its closure was announced at the end of last year.
But, Manners admits, the gallery had been eyeing Masterpiece for a few years. “It is the premier fair for London and one of the best in the world. Art Antiques London and the ceramics fair before that worked very well for us for many years but now that that’s come to an end we’re delighted to be exhibiting here,” Manners tells ATG.
And he feels he already has reason to be optimistic after what he estimates to be dozens of museums and institutions have already been in touch about attending as well as a supply of regular customers.
“I cannot imagine many dedicated collectors will fail to come,” he says, but adds that he’s also looking forward to meeting new clients.
Cross-collecting has long been promoted as one of the fair’s chief attractions and this year is reflected in a selection of shared stands. Berwald, with Modern British art, and Chinese antiques dealer MD Flacks will exhibit together as will Safani and Geoffrey Diner, offering a selection of antiquities and 20th century design.
“When we started it,” Apter says, “Masterpiece was the model for a new generation of art fairs with more modern ideas where one might find anything from a classic car to a Spitfire to jewellery. We are going to keep it going that way.”