Today sees the opening of Masterpiece, the London art fair that in the seven years since its founding has quickly established itself as one of the global calendar highlights for big name galleries, and deep-pocketed buyers. Running from the 29 of June until the 5 July, the fair has over 150 exhibitors this year, and is expected to welcome over 40,000 visitors.
The key perhaps to Masterpiece’s success lies in its cross-collecting approach. The competitor fairs it goes up against, such Art Basel, Frieze, Frieze Masters and TEFAF, tend to hone their focus on one cultural point, be it European old masters, or the best in global contemporary art.
Masterpiece however recognises that the 21st century model for a connoisseur and collector doesn’t always fit in that box so neatly. Now more than ever, buyers are putting medieval statues next to Damien Hirsts, or ancient Greek vases next to Bridget Rileys in eclectic displays of taste. And why not? It makes collecting more interesting, and exhibiting more vibrant. Grasping this trend by the horns, Masterpiece has dealers from every corner of the collecting world. Whether you’re after rare books, Ancient coins, fine jewels, Renaissance paintings, neon light sculptures or Scandinavian furniture, its all under this one roof here.
There is one other idea however, behind Masterpiece’s success. The fair has some of the strictest vetting around, meaning that only the dealers working with the highest quality of product are allowed in. And even then, they're only allowed to bring their finest pieces of stock. Anything that is deemed not good enough by the panel of judges is sent home the day before opening.
The results mean that under the one canvas ceiling, you find yourself walking amidst the most stunning works of art, furniture and design you’ll ever see. It gives the Victoria and Albert Museum a run for its money. This of course comes at a cost – piece's prices start in the low thousands and quickly climb to the hundreds of thousands, while it isn’t uncommon to see the million pound comma appearing on price tags.
This year the fair is no exception, with breath taking booths in an equally elegant setting. As you enter, a new exhibition space has been created, this year displaying the neon-lit infinity mirror works of Chilean artist Iván Navarro, which were commissioned by New York based Paul Kasmin Gallery. Further inside, Mount Street Deli, The Ivy, Scott’s and Le Caprice supply the catering, and between shopping for art and fine dining, you can even order a custom build Riva yacht.
Candid Magazine's favourites this year include several newcomers, such as the Mayfair based David Aaron Gallery, who have one of the finest collections of antiquities the fair has ever seen, with 6th century B.C. Greek helmets and a painted door from an ancient Egyptian tomb. During the preview their stand was the place to be and a flurry of sales welcomed their presence.
Hazlitt Holland Hibbert, based in St. James are also new to Masterpiece this year and have a fantastic collection of 20th century British works by the likes of David Hockney and Bridget Riley. Lyndsey Ingram, who recently collaborated with Hazlitt Holland Hibbert on a hit show in London of early Hockney prints also has a great booth with some Hockney works, which is getting us excited for her new Mayfair gallery to open at the end of the summer.
Representing the most cutting edge in modern art is Blain Southern, who have gone all out with a one-work booth; a bubble sculpture by Jeroen Verhoeven that has visitors scratching their heads and reaching for their Instagram accounts in equal measure. Hancocks and S.J. Philips have glistening vintage diamond necklaces and Faberge Eggs, While Modernity Stockholm have a booth of stunningly chic Scandinavian furniture from the last 100 years. Some galleries, such as Safani and Geoffrey Diner are even sharing a booth, displaying ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian artefacts alongside pieces of 20th century iconic design to create a stand that is a visual metaphor to make us think about what we make and collect, and why. David Hockney, Afternoon Swimming, 1979, Courtesy Lyndsey Ingram.
The fair's international presence continues to grow, whilst also cementing London as the number one city for collectors world wide. For some, the name alone summarises how the art world is drowning in pound signs – and it is clear that this a fun fair of consumerism on the most exclusive level – a pop up shop for the ultra high net worth.
However it is undeniable that the works of art on display here are breath-taking and the sheer effort that goes in to organising such an exhibition, for less than a week, is monumental. Masterpiece offers a chance to see artworks that will no doubt be purchased and squirreled away for centuries to come, far from prying eyes and hands, and at the same time serves as a walk-through history of art lesson like no other, covering 5,000 years of human culture. By Harry Seymour Masterpiece London, 29 June – 5 July 2017, Royal Hospital Chelsea, London SW3 4LW