Bonhams review of Masterpiece Art Fair

Masterpiece Fair celebrated its eighth edition this year, in the rarefied surroundings of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. As ever, this fair represented a selection of the finest antiquities, jewelry, design and fine art with an increasing emphasis on the latter in respect to the early iterations of the fair.

The question on everyone's lips was whether this year's fair would be as successful for those taking part as the 2016 edition had been. Many exhibitors had found the fair perhaps lacking in sales during the 2015 event, evinced by the fact that around 10% of those taking part that year decided against taking part in 2016. However, perhaps surprisingly on the back of the Brexit result the 2016 fair proved to be a great success with sales strong and evident across the board. This resulted in a large return this year of those exhibitors who had sat 2016 out: of 29 new galleries this year, 11 were returning after a year's hiatus. While some strong sales were reported this year, in general the atmosphere felt more akin to two years ago, rather than the relative fervor of 2016.

This fair has always concentrated very much on antiques, jewelry and the decorative arts but since the term of Nazy Vassegh (previously at Sotheby's, Vassegh left the fair last year) Masterpiece has focused increasingly on Modern and Contemporary art, mixing together fine arts and decorative arts to charming effect. It is certainly a different approach to fairs like TEFAF and Art Basel that are solely focused on fine art, and follows more the model of a fair like PAD. The most obvious signal of this move towards Contemporary art was found at the entrance of the fair, in a new section entitled 'Masterpiece Presents'. This saw Paul Kasmin Gallery presenting a large-scale installation piece created by Chilean artist Iván Navarro. The piece, called 'Impenetrable Room' and consisting of a circle of never-ending mirrored boxes lined in green neon, provided the obligatory selfie moment that all self-respecting art fairs need now.

Much of the fine art on display was London/Britain-centric, reflecting the increasing interest in Modern British artists. In 2015 the walls of many booths at Masterpiece were decorated with Post-War Italian art, which at the time was experiencing a boom in collecting and subsequently peak prices, showing that the fair very much reflects current tastes and trends. Exhibitors such as Sims Reed, Osborne Samuel, Piano Nobile and Lyndsey Ingram all put artists such as Hockney, Hamilton, Riley, Moore and Hepworth to the fore adding to the feeling that Masterpiece stood as a mirror not just to market trends but to the new British Post-Brexit introversion. Most booths chose to represent that for which they are best known to collectors (putting on an undeniably stylish and elegant fair but foregoing any risk in favor of crowd-pleasing familiarity), yet overall the buying this year appeared to be more subdued than the dealers might have hoped.

by India Phillips, Director, Impressionist & Modern Art, London


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