I headed for London for Old Master week. There is lots going on. The paintings dealers have open houses, Master Drawings London is on, the major auction houses have their sales of older art and there is a new fair in town. Well, it actually was inaugurated last year. Now they have coordinated it with the rest of the London activities and a number of major dealers have joined the throng.
It is called simply Masterpiece and was started when the Grosvenor House Fair shut it's doors. Some prospective participants were rightly wary the first year but it was so well designed and had some serious dealers so it got good reviews.
This year they found a space in The Royal Hospital in Chelsea, I say space advisedly because it is actually a field with a huge tent suitable for housing some 150. Exhibitors. With its wooden floors and carpeting, you would never know it was a field. The same designer that does TEFAF was hired and he was given a free hand. It all works marvelously and a number top dealers have joined this year.
There is always much excitement when a new fair begins to take off but it requires a very diligent effort by the organizers to keep it alive. This fair which is being inevitably compared with Maastricht's TEFAF has a long way to go before it reaches such heights but it is off to a good start. It is already an International show. There was an attempt to do the same in Munich in the 90's but it never got legs and therefore remained regional with the international dealers slowly bowing out.
Wisely, Masterpiece is not trying to do the same thing as Maastricht . It covers a broader range and is showing all different fields higgledy-piggledy next to each other. This means you might find a precision watchmaker next to a dealer in old master paintings, and then a photography dealer and a classic car dealership. This makes the whole experience much more fun.
The fair organizers broadcast the fact that in this fair there is something for everyone. You do not feel that you have to work so hard to get something out of it... It is far less intimidating. As one individual said to me, any exhibition that offers me a World War II Spitfire is alright with me!
There is a big choice of food too. A famous gourmet restaurant, a large bar with food and a deli with wine. This means there is no need to leave the fair.
Sales do not seem to be gangbusters but there is clearly some action. Also, the organizers need to weed out some of the lesser dealers and lure in more of the top ones and encourage them to put their best foot forward in their offerings. But it takes time to hone the exhibitors and build the audience. You are not going to get the same crowds in a city like London as you do in a small town in Holland. There are too many distractions here.
If you are only interested in a concentration of the best of the best in a specific area, Maastricht has it all set up for you. But if you want to see good art and enjoy the comparisons of various fields and not feel pressured, come to London’s new “Masterpiece”.