Size isn’t everything, but as Masterpiece London returns bigger than ever this month, its growth seems to reflect both current good standing and promise for the future.
The fair, which takes place at The Royal Hospital Chelsea from June 28-July 4, falls in the midst of the two-and-half-week stretch of auctions and exhibitions that represent the height of London’s busy summer season.
Since its debut in 2010, Masterpiece has retained the good opinion of many dealers, despite being one of the more expensive events on the circuit. Reports of last year’s event were generally positive with news of first-time buyers and sales across the board. Several dealers reflected that, eight years in, it had struck the right balance between luxury event and traditional trade fair.
Following that staging, MCH Group, owner of Art Basel, has become Masterpiece’s majority shareholder. Lucie Kitchener, installed as the fair’s managing director, has promised further international editions of the event.
Meanwhile – prior to any details about where the brand may be heading overseas – there will be some subtle changes to the London event. A new floorpan is intended to improve the flow of visitors and has allowed exhibitor numbers to swell to 160 (up from roughly 153 last year) for the ninth edition.
Growth (and some fallout) has made space for around 24 first-time participants. Among those joining this year are Old Master painting and sculpture specialist Lullo Pampoulides, Sarah Myerscough Gallery with contemporary art, The Redfern Gallery bringing modern British and contemporary art and Landau Fine Art, dealing in European masters from the 20th century to the present.
Of course, the exhibitor base is only part of the equation. MCH is focusing its efforts on a wider audience and a younger demographic in particular.
“Our footfall last year was up 20% on previous years,” Masterpiece chairman Philip Hewat-Jaboor tells ATG. “Numbers are important, but what really matters is who comes. We are really focused on museums and attracting new collectors as well as a younger group.”
Perhaps the most notable strategy for bringing in the next generation, at least from a trade perspective, is the fair’s vetting school. Started last year, this is designed to give younger specialists experience and training in vetting works of art. The aim is to “raise the next generation of connoisseurs”, Hewat-Jaboor adds.
New this year is a symposium on June 30, the Saturday of the fair, during which academics, curators and various ‘emerging stars’ of the trade will have a platform to present papers and learn from experts in their fields. The Little Grand Tour will take children around the fair, introducing them to art and antiques, and there is also a family day on Sunday, July 1.
Returning exhibitors at this year’s event include Richard Green, Robilant + Voena, Dickinson, Apter-Fredericks and H Blairman & Sons.
As in past years, some will share stands to save on cost and encourage the idea of cross-collecting. Les Enluminures and Daniel Crouch, for example, will stage an in-exhibition show titled A Brief History of Time: From Matins to Mars, bringing together celestial maps, instruments and illuminated manuscripts to demonstrating the breadth of the galleries’ offerings.
The Chippendale tercentenary will be a feature of this year’s fair. Among those taking pieces by England’s best-known furniture maker, designer and entrepreneur will be Apter-Fredericks, offering several pieces of Chippendale design furniture, including a writing table reputedly supplied by Chippendale to Raynham Hall, Norfolk.
Ronald Phillips has assembled 35 pieces for a selling exhibition that will run concurrently at the fair and the firm’s gallery in Bruton Street, Mayfair. The Phillips show includes items from a number of key Chippendale commissions, including the Chippendale family’s work for Edwin Lascelles at Harewood House.
An ormolu-mounted marquetry commode, c.1770-72 will appear alongside a neoclassical giltwood mirror made c.1785 for the White Drawing Room at Harewood that was rediscovered in North America in 2016.
In addition to ancient artworks on offer from dealers such as Rupert Wace, Kallos Gallery and ArtAncient (bringing a 4.6bn year-old meteorite), there is also a supply of contemporary art. Blain Southern, for example, brings a specially commissioned work by the Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota.
For the second year, Serbian artist Marina Abramović (b.1946) has created a series of alabaster portraits for Masterpiece Presents, which greets visitors on arrival. The combination of a traditional material and a contemporary statement is well chosen: a fitting entree to an event that seeks to combine the fabulous from every era.