Owing to the hurdles the global coronavirus pandemic posed on art fairs, the annual art fair of London, Masterpiece London was conducted online as Masterpiece Online. Exhibiting works from 135 galleries, the affair was one of the many art fairs which took to the internet.
Collecting website, Artsy, had hosted the viewing rooms and the e-commerce aspects of the online fair on a microsite. Additionally, Masterpiece Online had also offered a redesigned version of its own website complete with exhibitor bios, images of artworks on sale along with contact details. However, the site did not provide a purchasing platform. Virtual attendees could watch videos made by dealers and schedule a private viewing of up to six people with an expert for a guided tour, informed the fair’s managing director, Lucie Kitchener.
Referring to the fair’s mission since its inception to encourage a mix of eras, styles, and media (widely known as cross-collecting), the chairman of Masterpiece London, Philip Hewat-Jaboor, said, “To me, the challenge was to preserve the ethos of the fair : cross-collection, educational and very high quality.” “We’re going to have to learn to appreciate the complexities of art online, though it will never ever replace having an object in your hand”, he added. The organizers felt that having the fair online could ‘attract new people’ and ‘be a net positive’— “We can hook people who wouldn’t engage otherwise, because of time or travel constraints. I think there’s a pent-up demand for this”, told Hewat-Jaboor to Ted Loos of The New York Times.
The Dickinson gallery of London and New York took a ‘hybrid approach’ and hung its London space as a replica of a booth at the Masterpiece, allowing for online attendees to watch a video of the installation. The Dickinson presented two themed virtual rooms of which one was “artists inspired by travel”, and the other was “Cubism”, informed Emma Ward, one of the gallery’s directors.
Photography dealer, Peter Fetterman of the Peter Fetterman Gallery displayed what he described as “the most beautiful print I have ever seen” – The Dream (Mary Ann Hillier) by Julia Margaret Cameron from 1869 – along with Henri Cartier Bresson’s Queen Charlotte’s Ball (1959) and other images. While Fetterman missed his daily walks in Chelsea to the fair’s usual location in Ranelagh Gardens, he said that Masterpiece Online was “still a wonderful opportunity to keep in touch with all the sophisticated English clients” they had made there over the years. “My new mantra is ‘Embrace change; it’s good for you’”, he added.
Amsterdam based collector, Elsbeth van Tets, informed that she was encouraged by the online auctions at Sotheby’s, where two noted dealers, Danny Katz and Rafael Valls, were sold entirely online. In comparison to their usual prices at the European Fine Art Fair, van Tets noticed that the artworks were sold online at higher prices, which was “proof” to her that it could work if “presented well”. “People were stuck at home and desperate to buy”, she concluded. For Masterpiece Online, she looked at works on behalf of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.
London based lawyer and collector, Andrew Jones said that the virtual rendition of Masterpiece London was “a big leap” but he was open-minded. He said that art fairs and trades are “about relationships” and he would consider virtual chats with dealers because he would rather buy from someone he has talked to a few times. “The trust side of art fairs is really important”, he said.
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