The 'Close Quarters' exhibition that runs at M&L Fine Art until September 25.

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The selling exhibition comprises 20th century art from Italy and beyond as well as a selection of international modern design provided by Pimlico Road dealership Portuondo. All is organised in room-set style at M&L’s recently reopened Mayfair premises. It runs until September 25.

At the heart of Close Quarters is a shadowy figure: a fictional collector. The gallery encourages visitors to ponder who may have put this amalgam together and how he or she did so.

To help visitors reflect, the gallery provides a series of literary excerpts from texts such as Christopher Isherwood’s 1935 novel Mr Norris Changes Trains, as a sort of guided meditation on mysterious strangers and identities.

“I wanted to give the show a narrative and a literary dimension,” the gallery’s Pietro Pantalani told ATG. “It gives more engagement with the space. It’s not something we would usually do – it’s a different way to engage with our audience.”

The exhibition was born as a result of the schedule reshuffle as the world began to close in March. M&L made use of its own inventory, as well as several key art loans and the partnership with Portuondo, to compile the fictional collection.

On display are drawings by Gastone Novelli, David Hockney and Picasso, sculptures by Leoncillo Leonardi and Sirio Tofanari and paintings by Massimo Campigli and Giuseppe Capogrossi. The selection of furniture includes major mid-century names such as Max Ingrand, Gio Ponti and Bertha Schaefer.

There is also the playful inclusion of two slipper-shaped sculptures, one in ceramic and gold by Luigi Ontani, the other an actual shoe with added cotton and paint elements by Yayoi Kusama.

So is there a ‘right answer’ to the collector’s identity?

“I think we all have very different ideas about who it is,” Pantalani says.

He adds: “For me the unknown collector is a young man who inherited a lot of this and then started buying things…but an older person might say ‘I see myself’. It’s kind of nice if people project their alter egos on this space.”

Highlights from the Close Quarters show that runs at M&L Fine Art until September 25

TEFAF bears fruit

M&L first experienced the impact of coronavirus with the early closure of TEFAF Maastricht in March. The dealership lost several days of selling time but Pantalani says conversations that started at the fair did result in sales during lockdown. The firm had further success with a series of broadcasts on Instagram Live, which ran alongside its show on Italian painter Carla Accardi.

He joins other dealers in speculating that the latter half of the year, without the usual stable of major fairs, could be the real challenge.

However, since doors to the exhibition opened on June 19, people have, encouragingly, come through the gallery. Though safety measures are in place, bookings are not required (overcrowding is rare at the first-floor premises). Rather than taking in the show in an anxious dash, visitors are encouraged to linger, get comfortable in the space and perhaps imagine themselves as that mystery collector.