Annual London event, Masterpiece Art Fair, dubbed the ‘Billionaire’s Fair’

Des O’Sullivan takes a look around the annual London event, Masterpiece Art Fair dubbed the ‘Billionaire’s Fair’.
Annual London event, Masterpiece Art Fair, dubbed the ‘Billionaire’s Fair’

It there was a Brexit effect at Masterpiece, it was not obvious.

The leading London fair for art and design which covers collectibles from antiquity to the present day, ran up to Wednesday of this week.

And, while the Leave vote appeared not to have an effect on attendance, the international art market is contracting right now, but that’s not because of Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

Masterpiece Art Fair is held every summer in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and attracts around 40,000 visitors annually. Described as the billionaire’s art fair, Masterpiece brings out the A-listers along with the oligarchs.
Masterpiece Art Fair is held every summer in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and attracts around 40,000 visitors annually. Described as the billionaire’s art fair, Masterpiece brings out the A-listers along with the oligarchs.

The top end of the market is fairly immune to potential money changes. It is inhibited only by a shortage of supply as sellers hold off.

The art market contraction is at the middle and lower levels.

Masterpiece, which is global, offered glimpses of the kind of art the seriously rich collect and invest in right now.

In the wake of current political crises, it might have seemed the timing in 2016 of a fair established seven years ago to replace the old Grosvenor House Antiques’ Fair, could not have been worse.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Michael Caine, Shakira Caine and Julian Lennon at Masterpiece
Michael Caine, Shakira Caine and Julian Lennon at Masterpiece

Americans, in particular, found that their dollar went further all of a sudden, but the effect wasn’t limited to the Anglophone world.

There were buyers from across the board, and the world, in London this week.

The Sladmore Gallery reported their best ever Masterpiece opening. Long-Sharp Gallery sold 17 works of art to collectors from the US, UK and Asia.

New exhibitor Lindsey Ingram sold multiple works on paper to a range of international collectors. There were sales too of classic modern, British works and Italian post-war art.

The fair offered masterworks by artists like Monet, Pissarro, Picasso, Schiele, Freud, Kandinsky, Wesselman, Calder, Kitaj, Fang, Hockney, Dalí, Warhol and Kiefer.

Mick Jagger at Masterpiece.
Mick Jagger at Masterpiece.

So, do people buy for investment or pleasure, or a combination of both? There is undoubtedly a lot of investment in the art market, but it is not like other markets.

Supply is the key.

An individual who buys for investment tends to see a price tag when they look at their art.

If you buy for pleasure you enjoy the artwork in a more meaningful way.

Jasper Conran, the designer who now heads up the Conran empire.
Jasper Conran, the designer who now heads up the Conran empire.

At the lower levels of the market, the advice has to be — always to buy what you like.

After all, you are the one who will be living with it.

Money helps, but good taste can and should prevail without serious funds, A few sticks and stones and a pot of white paint can help create an artistic interior.

Mr Picasso developed a whole new school of art based on found objects when art materials were impossible to come by during the Second World War.

Gary in the Pool by David Hockney, 1978, was priced at £650,000 at Offer Waterman London.
Gary in the Pool by David Hockney, 1978, was priced at £650,000 at Offer Waterman London.

You do not need to be rich to collect, but at Masterpiece you do need lots of money.

A budding collector seeking Lucian Freud’s only known Irish work, a drawing of a boat in Connemara, would have to part with a cool £1.35 million.

The work was on the Masterpiece stand of Stephen Ongpin Fine Art.

Business at Masterpiece remained buoyant all week.

Many galleries continued to report new sales as the week went on.

Trinity House had a price tag of £24,000 on Elegante au chapeau by Paul César Helleu.
Trinity House had a price tag of £24,000 on Elegante au chapeau by Paul César Helleu.

A fair of this nature offers an important opportunity for leading galleries to meet new clients.

This is ever more important in a global marketplace where the art market is no longer dependant on just a handful of countries.

Underlining this changed reality is the fact that registered bidders from no fewer than 75 countries participated in ten days of art sales at Christie’s up to the end of June.

The auction series celebrating Christie’s 250 years in business saw 20 new artists records. Among them was Eve, a 1992 work by Sean Scully, which made £902,500 over a top estimate of £600,000.

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