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Here Are The Things We Learned At Masterpiece London
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Here Are The Things We Learned At Masterpiece London

Picture of Harriet Clugston
Updated: 12 December 2016
Now in its seventh year, the Masterpiece London international fair of art, antiques and design has fast become one of the hottest events on the art collector’s calendar. More than 150 dealers and galleries exhibit museum-quality pieces from around the world, with Masterpiece distinguished by its unbounded approach which sees the free mixing of antiquity with contemporary pieces — the range of pieces spans an incredible 5,000 years of human history. Here are six things we learned from this year’s event.

Zaha Hadid could design a killer table

One of the most anticipated salons at this year’s Masterpiece fair was dedicated to Zaha Hadid, the world-renowned Iraqi architect who passed away earlier this year, famed in particular for her extraordinarily fluid, curved designs. The salon was curated by Francis Sultana of the David Gill Gallery, Hadid’s long-time gallerist, for whom Hadid had produced pieces exclusively for almost 10 years prior to her death. The salon celebrated Hadid’s lesser known work in non-architectural disciplines, including her stunning furniture design; her Crater Coffee Table, the first piece she designed for the gallery in 2007 (and which began her and Sultana’s collaboration) was on display, as was her gorgeous Liquid Glacial set of table and chairs.

Liquid Glacial Table by Zaha Hadid for David Gil | ©Forgemind ArchiMedia/Flickr
Liquid Glacial Table by Zaha Hadid for David Gil | ©Forgemind ArchiMedia Follow/Flickr
Crater Coffe Table by Zaha Hadid, David Gill at Masterpiece London 2016|©David Gill/Sutton PR
Crater Coffe Table by Zaha Hadid, David Gill at Masterpiece London 2016 | ©David Gill/Sutton PR

Art dealers are worried about Brexit

At the first art fair to be held in the UK following the vote for Brexit on June 24, the opening days of Masterpiece were dominated by discussions concerning the result’s impact on art trade. While there were early fears about the drop in value of the pound, with exhibitors voicing concerns about the period of economic uncertainty, sales remained strong. Some dealers, such as Simon Dickinson, who specializes in Old Master British paintings, chose to advertise each work in the currency of its consignor, though the collapse of the pound — which is at its lowest level against the dollar since 1985 — did lead to increased attention from American bargain-hunters (the term ‘bargain’ being, of course, relative).

Sleigh chair designed by Börge Mogensen for Tage M Christensen & Co, Denmark. 1950's, presented by Modernity at Masterpiece London, June 2016|©Modernity/Sutton PR
Sleigh chair designed by Börge Mogensen for Tage M Christensen & Co, Denmark. 1950s, presented by Modernity at Masterpiece London, June 2016 | ©Modernity/Sutton PR

1950s Scandinavian design is ‘in’ right now

Scandinavian art collectors from Modernity were in attendance at Masterpiece London for the first time and particularly keen to get a bite of the action. Specializing in 20th-century pieces, particularly post-war Scandinavian design, they sold items by Danish interior designers Finn Juhl and Mogens Lassen, and furniture designer Børge Mogensen. Modernity also elicited a flurry of excitement with a Danish Neo-Egyptian long-case clock, which was its first object to be sold after it won one of Masterpiece’s object awards.

It is thought Scandinavian design hit its stride mid-century, with the egalitarian political landscape in the trio of nations (Norway, Denmark and Sweden) leading to a revolution of sorts in the design world. An understated feel, functionality and accessibility fed into an overarching socialist desire for ‘good design for all’ — more than a little at odds with the general opulence and splendor of fairs like Masterpiece.

Grandfather clock designed by Jens Jacob Bregnö, Denmark 1927. Cabinet painted by Poul Jörgensen, made by Thomas Georg Madsen and mechanism by Jens Olsen, on display by Modernity at Masterpiece London| Courtesy of Sutton Pr
Grandfather clock designed by Jens Jacob Bregnö, Denmark 1927. Cabinet painted by Poul Jörgensen, made by Thomas Georg Madsen and mechanism by Jens Olsen, on display by Modernity at Masterpiece London | Courtesy of Sutton Pr

Zips can be beautiful

Luxury French jewelry, watch and perfume house Van Cleef & Arpels (popular with Grace Kelly and Elisabeth Taylor, as well as various royalty from around the world) were back for their second year exhibiting some of their most iconic pieces — gorgeous antique zip jewellery. The zip necklace’s creation is credited to the Duchess of Windsor in 1938 (aka the royal Yoko Ono, Mrs Wallis Simpson) who suggested the idea to Renée Puissant, daughter of Alfred Van Cleef. The piece took more than 10 years of painstaking engineering to be completed, being finished in 1951, with zip necklaces continuing to play an iconic role in the jewelry house’s collections ever since. Actress Margot Robbie wore a Zip Antique Columbine necklace (an exact replica of Mrs Simpson’s original) at the 2015 Academy Awards, with the piece being believed to be worth $1.5 million, one of the most expensive diamond necklaces in the world.

Post-war Italian art is also having a moment

In the last two years, London has seen an avalanche of gallery openings dedicated to Italian post-war art. The Cortesi Gallery, M&L Fine Arts and Tornabuoni Art all launched in the past year, and took part in this year’s Masterpiece London for the first time, with other galleries seeking to get in on the action with a spate of exhibitions being held since 2014—esteemed London art fair Frieze recorded record sales in this area in 2014. Among the famous names exhibited this year were Michelangelo Pistoletto, Lucio Fontana and Enrico Castellani, with a piece by the latter winning this year’s Masterpiece award for best work by a living artist.

Post-war Italian artists are characterized by a rejection of earlier artistic obsessions (such as a desire for the trappings of modernism) in favour of the ordinary, exploring a variety of textures and materials in their art and seeking, in general, to transform the national Italian identity.

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The Fair’s home was designed by Christopher Wren

Masterpiece is held in the beautiful Royal Hospital Chelsea, now home to the beloved Chelsea Pensioners, a group of soldiers retired from the British Army. King Charles II founded the hospital for this very purpose in 1682, wishing to provide a refuge for old or disabled veterans in lieu of an army pension — an idea inspired by the Parisian Les Invalides. The building was designed by Christopher Wren, one of England’s most acclaimed architects and the man behind such classic London landmarks as St Paul’s Cathedral and the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

Masterpiece London is held annually at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and will return on June 29th-July 5th 2017.

Royal Hospital Chelsea, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London, England.