Masterpiece London returned with a festive opening last week for its first IRL edition after a two-year Covid-related hiatus. The fair, which runs until July 6, brought together 128 exhibitors who displayed a wide range of artwork, antiques and collectibles. Yet these exquisite works of art on display are somewhat overshadowed by the natural wonders of the world: dinosaur skulls, rare mineral carvings and gogottes have been the talk of the town.
Like the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) which takes place in Maastricht and New York, Masterpiece London has positioned itself as a high-end fair since its creation in 2010. It presents beautiful objects ranging from traditional fine art to design, furniture, jewelry and antiques. So when TEFAF decided to hold its post-Covid restart at the end of June, cramming into the usual Masterpiece London slot, it caused a lot of stress for dealers and art connoisseurs, who had to decide which fairs travel to Europe during a hectic month of June marked by chaotic travel, already hosted Art Basel in Basel and Brussels Art Fair (BRAFA) in one month.
Tuesday’s preview, however, proved such worries may not have been necessary as the aisles of the fair, set up in a bespoke marquee on the south ground of Chelsea Royal Hospital, were packed. of visitors in fancy dresses and shoes, with well -groomed puppies by their side. Some of them came from North America. There was also a noticeable presence of East and South Asian faces. The free flow of champagne and rosé certainly helped fuel the jovial atmosphere, but the opportunity to reconnect with old customers and meet new people, along with solid sales, were what kept merchants happy ( except for a few who complained of having stretched too much between Masterpiece London and TEFAF Maastricht the previous week).
“It’s been really positive. In 2019 people complained about art fair fatigue. But what I feel now is the exact opposite,” Lucie Kitchener, Managing Director of Masterpiece London, told Artnet News Being in London also gave the fair an edge, she noted, as people wanted to visit London during times when the auctions and Wimbledon are also taking place simultaneously.
The strong presence of Asian visitors, mostly Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking art lovers, could be a result of the fair’s earlier work in Hong Kong, Kitchener noted. After being acquired by Art Basel’s parent company, MCH, nearly five years ago, Masterpiece London has been actively trying to expand into Asia via Hong Kong, where Art Basel runs its Asian edition. The London fair teamed up with Fine Art Asia and traveled to Hong Kong in 2019 at the height of the protests.
The bleak economic outlook caused by the recent stock market downturn and soaring inflation seemed to have little impact on the show, especially on sales of modern names and historical pieces. “When I talk to people about why they bought, their reasons aren’t financial,” Kitchener noted.
The total number of exhibitors this year is down from the last in-person pre-Covid edition in 2019, where 157 attended, but there are 30 new entrants, including a few dealers from Asia, such as 3812 Gallery in Hong Kong, which also has a space in London and Tang Contemporary Art, which operates in Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Seoul. New Delhi-based Dhoomimal Gallery, one of the oldest contemporary art galleries in India, also joined the fair this year. Fine Minerals International from the United States, another newcomer, was arguably the most talked about stand during the opening days.
“The response is overwhelming,” said Daniel Trinchillo, chairman of Fine Minerals International, which brought crystallized mineral specimens to Masterpiece London for the first time. The crowd on opening night was in awe of these colorful pieces, which looked like abstract sculptures. “A lot of people have never seen mineral specimens displayed this way,” Trinchillo said.
The items were priced between “a five-figure sum” and $2 million – the latter price was for a rare piece of tourmaline. Five coins were sold on Friday, July 1, including a Fluorite coin for $600,000.
Trinchillo said collecting crystallized mineral specimens was once a niche hobby among a specific demographic professionally trained in the science of geology and mineralogy. But Hollywood composer James Horner started a trend in the early 2000s by collecting the pieces specifically for their beauty and artistry, according to Trinchillo.
Masterpiece’s embrace of the trend seems to be going well this year. Specimens of crystallized minerals weren’t the only wonders of the natural world to attract followers. Antiques dealer David Aaron has sold the skull of a late Cretaceous (about 68-66 million years ago) triceratops dinosaur that was discovered in Wyoming, US, in late 2019. It was purchased by a private collector for an undisclosed sum. ArtAncient, of London, sold eight pieces of gogottes (stoneware millions of years old) for between £4,500 ($5,442) and £150,000 ($181,422) each.
Certain modern and contemporary art galleries also recorded satisfactory sales. London-based Waddington Custot, an early exhibitor, sold a watercolor by Peter Blake, 90, for a price of around £100,000 ($120,948) to £150,000 ($181,422) . The gallery also sold a painting by Michael Craig Martin from 2002 for around £100,000 ($120,948) and a photorealist painting by Richard Estes for between £120,000 ($145,137) and £130,000 ($157,232). $).
The American gallery Sundaram Tagore, which also operates in Singapore, sold a painting by Susan Well for $97,000, a stainless steel work by Zheng Lu for $25,000 and a work on paper by Hiroshi Senju for $320,000. Tang Contemporary sold three paintings of varying scales by Jonas Burgert for €75,000 ($78,213) to €178,000 ($185,627) just hours after the show opened. The gallery also features works from Ai Weiwei’s Lego Zodiac series and Zhu Jinshi’s iconic paintings made with thick, sculptural layers of oil paint, which the gallery says have sparked strong interest among collectors. local British and Europeans. “As an Asian gallery participating in this very British art fair, we stand out for our selection,” said Michela Sena, director of Tang Contemporary Bangkok.
3812 Gallery has also recorded strong sales since its inception, selling works by Shanghai-born, Taiwan-based modern Asian master Hsiao Chin to London collectors for around $200,000 each. The gallery also sold a work by British artist Terry Frost for $120,000. “We were hoping to cultivate our local collector base here, but Covid made that impossible,” said gallery co-founder Calvin Hui. The gallery, which has one of the largest stands at the fair, said it was ready to stay with Masterpiece “for at least three to five years”.
British dealers also did particularly well, especially those selling artists from the modern period. Karen Taylor, who showcased a range of once-overlooked female artists, was among one of the ecstatic dealers during the first two days of the fair. Two watercolors by the Scottish Pre-Raphaelite painter Alice Boyd, as well as an 1800 watercolor by Sarah Stone, have been reserved by the museums. She had also sold works in the range of £10,000 ($12,095) to £100,000 ($120,948) in the first two days.
Another successful British dealer was Peter Osborne, co-founder of the Osborne Samuel Gallery. It sold eight works in the first two days for tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, including works by Henry Moore. His biggest sale was a sculpture by Lynn Chadwick for just under £2 million ($2.4 million) to a London-based collector.
“We are very happy to be back. The best customers are coming back. A lot of people came to town this week despite TEFAF. It feels like things are going back to pre-pandemic,” Osborne told Artnet News. Is the economy impacting sales? “At times like these, people are looking to diversify their portfolio. It’s a time for top-notch work. It’s good for us,” he noted.
Masterpiece London runs until July 6.
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