You Made Us Feel So Free
Total Eclipse of the Art
It was as if Elizabeth Bowen was in Masterpiece London and not The House in Paris: “Heaven – call it heaven; on the plane of potential not merely likely behaviour. Or call it art, with truth and imagination informing every word.” Now in its sixth year, Lavender’s Blue have covered the last four but as Liz B declared, “Any year of one’s life has got to be lived.” Red carpet Dysoned, #MPL2015 has arrived. The greatest show on earth is back in town. Millennia of masterpieces filling a groundscraper marquee (12,500 square metres), a pneumatic Royal Hospital Chelsea, full blown Wrenaissance, Quinlan Merry, painted canvas under printed canvas. Arts and antiques gone glamping. Something to tweet home about lolz. An upper case Seasonal fixture and celebration of unabashed luxury. Masterpiece is truly the cultural epicurean epicentre of civilisation, from now (Grayson Perry’s Map of Days at Offer Waterman) to antiquity (Head of a Young Libyan AD 200 at Valerio Turchi).
Everyone’s here at the preview party, the upper aristocracy and upper meritocracy of globalisation chic to chic. Royalty with their heirs and airs, gentry with their seats and furniture, oligarchs with their bodyguards’ bodyguards, Anglo Irish with their Lords and Lourdes, nouveau riche with their Youghal to Youghal carpet, celebrities with their baggage and baggage, Londoners with their Capital and capital. And a very bubbly Eamonn Holmes. Stop people watching. Stare at the felicitous ambiguity of Geer van Velde. Wonder at the dense opaque impasto of Freud. Gaze at the transparent golden glaze of Monet. Study the descriptive precision of Zoffany. Blog about the parallel lines of Bridget Riley. Instagram a selfie beside The Socialite, Andy Warhol’s portrait of New York realtor Olga Berde Mahl shyly making her first ever public showing courtesy of Long-Sharp Gallery. Better late than never.
“If you think about it the clue is in the name,” muses artist Anne Davey Orr. “Masterpiece – a creation that is considered the greatest work of a career, or any work of outstanding creativity and skill. And Masterpiece is certainly the best in its field. From the faux façades to the faux colonnades, and the exotic festoons by Nikki Tibbles of Wild at Heart, Masterpiece exudes a professionalism which avoids the tackiness that sometimes attaches to other art fairs. The accompanying directory of 300 high end galleries alone, contents apart, sets it in a league of its own.”
Newly introduced Cultural Partners such as the Wallace Collection lend added weight to #MPL2015. Every discipline in the design art market is represented. The reflection is so perfect in Edouard Lièvre’s rosewood mirror in Didier Aaron. Hot on the jewel encrusted heels of Wartski is a cool £22 million Bling Ring’s worth of rubies and diamonds at Van Cleef and Arpels. “It’s hard to find rubies over five carats,” notes PR Joan Walls. “The Vermillon earrings are 13.33 and 13.83 carats. Their pigeon blood red colour is so rare, so wonderful. They’ve pure consistency with very few inclusions. The Vermillon earrings are underscored by corollas of pear shaped marquise cut diamonds.”
Another Masterpiece first is a piano. Cue Steinway and Son’s 600,000th instrument The Fibonacci designed and handcrafted by Frank Pollaro. Random renditions of Für Elise aren’t recommended. Sipping Ruinart and devouring pea and mint canapés while chatting to Stephen Millikin is. “Fibonacci is a geometric representation of the golden ratio. It’s found in nature and art, brought together in this piano,” Stephen explains. He’s Senior Director of Global Public Relations at Steinway and Sons, based at 1155 Avenue of the Americas, New York. “The piano is made from six logs of Macassar Ebony. A Fibonacci spiral is inset in the veneer. This motif resonated with Frank Pollaro.” At £1.85 million it’s not going for a song but nor should it. The Fibonacci was four years in the making from concept to completion. Maths star piece.
Vaulted boulevards of dreams, deep white fissures, lead to panoplies of intense colour. Galerie Chenel’s Pompeiian red, empire yellow and lavender’s blue niches fade to black in the shadows of exquisite statuary. There is no vanilla at Masterpiece. Lacroix clad Lady Henrietta Rous and Suzanne Von Pflugl rock up to Scott’s (Mount Street has decamped from Mayfair to Chelsea for the week). The conversation is fashion houses and fashionable houses. “I’m wearing my Ascot hat!” proclaims Lady Henrietta. “I tried on all the hats on King’s Road! Ossie Clarke was a good friend. I edited his diaries.” Annabel P recognises mention of Suzanne’s childhood home now lived in by her brother, Milton Manor House. “It’s perfect for weddings. At the last one Henrietta was still going strong on the dancefloor at 2am!” jokes Suzanne. “It was the vintage music!” blames Lady Henrietta.
“Tamarisks flying past the rainy windows were some dream,” imagined Elizabeth Bowen, “not your own, a dream you have heard described.” Carriages; horses for courses. All aboard golf buggies to vacate the Royal Hospital estate. Not so bound the Honourable Mrs Gerald Legge, Countess of Dartmouth, Comtesse de Chambrun Viscountess Lewisham, Viscountess Spencer. A Rolls Royce pulls up and Raine slides into the back seat. Blacked out windows slide up, no time for a Snapchat. And so, the chimerical layering vision that is Masterpiece London, so emblematic of a progressive spirit, is over for another year. Here’s to #MPL2016.
Making a Statement
Most recent news stories about Mayfair focus on how it’s changing. Mount Street, once a commercial backwater, now hosts Britain’s chief fleet of fashion flagships and international designer powerhouses. Waves of overseas money are buying up former English aristocrats’ homes on Rex Place and Balfour Mews. “In the last 10 years the number of antique shops and galleries in Mayfair has fallen,” observes Jamie Sinai. “Nevertheless London as a whole remains a strong centre for antiques.” Indeed sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what fair is when. Bada, Battersea, Lapada, Olympia and best of all, Masterpiece. There are still a few art and antique galleries on Mayfair’s South Audley Street including Mayfair Gallery and Sinai and Sons. The former was started by Jamie’s Iranian born father; the latter, his uncle.
“My dad set up Mayfair Gallery over 40 years ago,” explains Jamie. “Prior to that he gained a wealth of experience in the hustle and bustle of Jaffa. That’s where he first traded in collectibles and antiques before moving to London. Dad put his entrepreneurial spirit and international experience to good use by establishing Mayfair Gallery.” Jamie sees the core business as adding to the extensive inventory, providing professional art and design advice, maintaining a good shop front and attracting serious customers. It’s successful. “My dad has a great eye for new pieces. He looks for unique well made pieces showing quality artistry and craft.” Jamie oversees the day to day running of the Gallery alongside his younger brother. His English born mother also works in the family business. “We all muck in!” Stock is mainly 19th century with some earlier, some later pieces.
The internationalisation of world cities has affected business. “We do still have some UK buyers,” he says, “but the main interest is from overseas. We’re starting to see more Chinese and Indian customers. The US was strong at one point, in the Eighties and Nineties, but less so now. The Middle East continues to do well.” So far, so good. Jamie’s role at the Gallery, though, is to take it forward into the next decades of the 21st century, to move into new areas. Holding regular exhibitions – the most recent was on the Impressionists – is one innovation. Gallery as shop as gallery. The website features a 360 degree tour of the interior which is linked to the Google Street View of South Audley Street. Virtual shopping at its integrated best. “One of my challenges is to communicate to people yes we’re high end but we also sell smaller pieces at a medium price point.”
“It’s a slow changing industry compared to others,” Jamie reckons. “That’s not always a bad thing but it takes time to implement change. The auction houses have embraced change better.” His wider mission is to alter the way people view antiques, to make them more relevant, more appealing to the younger generation. “I like placing really fine antiques into very contemporary settings. Overly traditional interiors can be cluttered and overwhelming. On the other hand, minimalist rooms are often cold and lacking. Bringing the best of the two together you get a very nice harmony. I want to try and promote that style and look, to celebrate the vibrancy of antiques in a new context.”
Jamie started working life as an auditor for PriceWaterhouseCoopers. It sounds a world away from art and antiques but he believes it equipped him with an outsider’s insight into the industry. “Clients ranged from small retailers right up to FTSE 100 companies. It was a real eye opener into how businesses are run.” He believes it will take time to change the public’s perception of antiques. “Taste is definitely cyclical. It’s driven by the media. Right now, everyone is being swept along by the big craze for technology. Look at the queues outside stores when a new smartphone is released! There’s not much individuality but that will come back.” He reckons people will get bored of spending money purely on functional items and will start looking for belongings with character. “For me, it is very exciting to continue to explore new ways of promoting antiques.” Jamie Sinai is a breath of fresh air in an industry in danger of becoming stale. It’s time to say goodbye to safe greige interiors and hello to statement antiques.