Painstakingly curated, conveniently located and deliciously catered — what’s not to love about the Masterpiece London art fair, asks Freddy Barker
SURVIVING THE SUMMER season requires prioritisation and — thankfully — there’s finally a London art fair that takes the same attitude. Masterpiece London, the eight-day June/July show in Chelsea media partnered by Spear’s, actively excludes second-rank works through a stringent vetting process.
Conceived by experienced dealers, its objective is to deliver the best of the best — fitting for its venue, the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea — by fusing the art and luxury markets to blow provincial antique fairs out of the water. That means it’s a UK version of TEFAF Maastricht, which coincides cleverly with key Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions so that international collectors can visit.
This year the fair will have 170 exhibitors. There’s an international flavour, including Dickinson, A La Vieille Russie, Alessandra di Castro and Carlo Orsi, Sycomore Ancient Art and Brame et Lorenceau — and that’s no mistake, says Thomas Woodham-Smith, the creative director: ‘Masterpiece London is not just catering for the London market but focusing on London as a trading hub.’
The highlights this year include Hancocks’ Art Deco multi-gem pictorial plaque brooch by Lacloche, a white gold watch with Japanese maki-e lacquer dial and alligator leather strap by Vacheron Constantin, and a Ming dynasty Kinrande plate sold by Jorge Welsh. A wide range of objects across the disciplines will be on display and for sale, from the fine and decorative arts to premium collectors’ items such as classic cars, watches, jewellery, fine wines and contemporary design.
‘Masterpiece London is a new concept of fair,’ says Woodham-Smith. ‘It incorporates everything, showing modern living as well as modern collecting.’
Now in its third year, Masterpiece London has achieved innumerable sales in private but there are some public milestones of note. Wick Antiques sold a black walnut billiard table carved with references to the industrial growth and cultural variety enjoyed under Queen Victoria’s reign for £600,000. Moreover, Symbolic and Chase sold a 47-carat yellow diamond pin, circa 1938, for over £1 million, while Ronald Phillips traded a Regency brass and polychrome Japanned copper chandelier in the manner of Henry Holland for approximately £500,000.
Will those prices be beaten in 2012? In part that’s down to the works on offer and in part market strength.
‘Art is increasingly becoming a valuable form of alternative investment in the current global economy,’ says fair director Nicola Winwood. ‘The sector has consistently outperformed stock market returns in all periods between 2000 and 2011, even showing 10.2 per cent growth in the depths of recession last year.’
HOPE IS CLEARLY in the air. But there’s more to Masterpiece London than sentiment: Deloitte and Art Tactic recently reported that 48 per cent of clients are buying art specifically for financial gain.
Ironically, emptying one’s wallet often takes a full belly, so Masterpiece London has gone to some lengths to secure the services of Le Caprice. Such is the setting that the fair already has a history of attracting the glitterati. High-profile guests have included singers, film stars and even royalty.
Indeed, this is a real differentiator for the fair. Rather than offering one room devoted to VIPs like other fairs, no expense has been spared to ensure that HNWs can feel comfortable, and all visitors feel as though they have received the VIP treatment.
Wandering through the tent, it is thus with considerable respect that one looks back on Masterpiece London’s beginnings. ‘Why launch a fair of this calibre in a recession, and in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse?’ Woodham-Smith asks rhetorically. ‘Art trade is important to us and the art world needs to feel there is a prestigious platform to reinstate itself in the 21st century. Masterpiece London is a forum for sale and reaffirms that the decorative art market is robust and still going. Masterpiece London demonstrates how people want to buy, live and experience art. The fair acts as a model of redefinition of the decorative art world.’
Masterpiece London 2012 takes place 28 June—4 July (with a preview on 27 June) in the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London SW3. Tickets are £20 (£100 for the preview), available to purchase online at www.masterpiecefair.com or by calling 020 7499 7470
Read more by Freddy Barker