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  1. Wealth
June 29, 2012

Masterpiece London Majors on Masterpieces, Gagosian Fails to Gag

By Spear's

It seems as if half of London society – by which I mean global society – has traipsed past the Spear’s booth at the Masterpiece London art fair

It seems as if half of London society – by which I mean global society – has traipsed past the Spear’s booth at the Masterpiece London art fair, in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, in its first three days.

The broad range of stands has something for the Russian oligarch in everyone’s life: antiquities from the Merrin and Cahn galleries, Modern paintings from Dickinson (who are right on the money with a massive Miro), fine furniture from Mallett and Old Masters from Philip Mould.

Read what Philip Mould had to say about masterpieces at the Spear’s breakfast debate

This spread also includes luxury brands like Rolls Royce, Theo Fennell and Vacheron Constantin, which do not meet everyone’s approval – they feel it detracts from the fair’s overall seriousness. One gallerist said that Masterpiece ‘is aimed more at lifestyle than heavyweight art and antiques’ and wasn’t quite the rival to Maastricht it thought it was.

This is unfair: what Masterpiece aims at is helping collectors to pick the best of the best, whether that means a van Dyck sketch or a new diamond pendant. Dickinson, for example, out out blue-chip artists: as well as the Miro, who has broken his sale record twice this year already, there was a bruisey van Dongen, a silvery Warhol and a late Picasso, the era of whose oeuvre has better supply.

Who it’s aimed at is a different question. The Russians of Chelski are clearly one target, hence the one-stop-shop approach. (The more discriminating Evgeny Lebedev came through on Wednesday.) Judging by the numerous Chinese works on display, Asian millionaires are also on the menu.

Jonathan Coulborn of Thomas Coulborn & Sons had a series of twelve Chinese gouaches depicting the process of making ceramics, made for European eyes and previously owned by prime minister Lord Grenville. Going for £12,500 (as was another similar set depicting the tea ritual), the pictures had appeal, said Coulborn, because the Chinese are now looking beyond Imperial work, which is expensive and scarce, to work produced about China or by the Chinese for export. Canton/Guangdong province in particular was a fertile source of clients for this, he said.

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Tanya Baxter Contemporary reported healthy interest and even some sales of its Chinese paintings. I particularly liked Zeng Chuanxing’s Red Paper Bride (£85,000).

When Masterpiece announced that Gagosian would be creating a project, they couldn’t have imagined that meant dusting off a silver Marsyas sculpture by Hirst and sticking it in front of Le Caprice. It’s so terribly lazy and even dismissive.

Rather more than dismissive was the Gagosian harridan who tried to stop me tweeting a photo of the offending item. When I pointed out to her that this was on display in public, she gave me a sickly smile and dropped her injunction. Gagosian, she said, like to control which images appear, as if we hadn’t yet guessed.

Gagosian gag aside, Masterpiece has resumed its position as the fair of the finest objects. And if you come down on Saturday, you can even say hello to me on the Spear’s stand.

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