From a Speed Boat to Alabaster Marina Abramović Avatars, There’s Something for Everyone at This Year’s Masterpiece Fair

Abramović herself is expected to make an appearance at the London fair.

Masterpiece London 2017. Photo by Andy Barnham.

London’s Masterpiece art fair has pulled off a Marina Abramović coup. The artist is due to unveil a new work, her first in alabaster, at the fair, which opens on June 27 to invited visitors and runs through to July 4 in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital. The artist is expected in person in the fair’s neo-Georgian marquee as well as with several sculptural avatars, artnet News has learned.

Philip Hewat-Jaboor, the chairman of Masterpiece, has had a sneak peek of Abramović’s installation Fire Stages of Maya Dance in the studio of Factum Arte in Spain. Presented in collaboration with Lisson Gallery, the work combines LED lights illuminating five alabaster portraits of the artist looking angst-ridden. 

Marina Abramović, Five Stages of Maya Dance (2018), presented by Factum Arte and Lisson Gallery at Masterpiece Presents. Photo by Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Arte.


Along with this dramatic curtain-raiser for Abramović’s solo show at the Royal Academy in London in 2020, visitors to the ninth edition of the fair will be greeted by one of Larry Bell’s big, translucent glass cubes, VFZ 2 (2017). Made of sea salt and Cerise laminated glass, the work will bring a touch of Venice Beach fog to a stretch of the Thames traditionally associated with another American virtuoso of misty weather, the expat artist James McNeill Whistler, who lived and worked just up the river.

Masterpiece is the kind of fair where you can find work by both—plus a speed boat. (Hewat-Jaboor stresses that the boat is always a unique work and will remain part of the fair’s mix.) Larry Bell’s signature sculpture marks another coup for Masterpiece. The alpha gallery Hauser & Wirth is presenting Bell’s work as part of its debut at the fair. It is creating a wunderkammer in its booth, where contemporary works by artists including Phyllida Barlow and Philip Guston will be shown along with 18th- and 19th-century furniture.

Masterpiece 2017. Photograph by Andy Barnham.

The cabinet-of-curiosities theme fits Masterpiece organizers’ desire to encourage cross collecting to a tee. Hewat-Jaboor says that he hopes visitors will see the eclectic mix of contemporary works, Old and Modern Masters, furniture, design, and antiquities on show in 160 dealers’ booths and think: “I could do that at home.” Masterpiece hopes to attract not only the established collector but also the many wealthy people in London in June “who are not really collectors but are interested and have multiple residencies,” he says.

Hewat-Jaboor is proud of the fair’s food and drink, provided by Le Caprice and the Ivy among other high-end caterers, and says this year the fair offers private dining rooms. Another first is a second main aisle and a slightly bigger tent.

Masterpiece London has reached its “optimum size,” Hewat-Jaboor says, stressing that the British edition will remain the fair’s “focal point.” New majority share holder MCH, the Swiss company behind Art Basel, has announced that it is looking to export the Masterpiece brand abroad. Hewat-Jaboor confirms that the Middle East, Far East, and US are possible locations for international editions.

Rob and Nick Carter, (still) Transforming Five Tulips in a Wan-Li Vase (2017). Copyright the artists, courtesy of Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Ben Brown Fine Arts is another Masterpiece debutant. It is showing Rob and Nick Carter’s “Transforming” series. The 12 digital works turn historic canvases into slow-motion, computer-generated films. John Constable’s Study for The Cornfield (around 1817), which is in the Tate’s collection, is transformed by the artists into a two-and-a-half-hour work, for example. The artists are due to be at the fair, talking about their work, examples of which are in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.

The Carters are the first living artists to show a work in the Frick Collection in New York, and the Frick Pittsburgh recently acquired their Transforming Five Tulips in a Wan-Li Vase (2017) a 32-minute looped film after Ambrosius Bosschaert The Elder’s still life of 1619. “It’s the first video work they have collected,” Rob Carter says, adding that Frick staff first saw it at TEFAF Maastricht. “When these paintings were made they were jaw dropping, but now people are bombarded with images, so these works underscore what these masters did and will hopefully create a new audience,” says Nick Carter.

When they started the series ten years ago they were partly motivated by the statistic that, on average, people look at paintings in museums for three seconds or less. “Now it is probably worse,” Rob Carter says. “People photograph the art, then the label and move on, as if they are bagging paintings. So if we can make them stop when they see a bit of real-time action, be it a tulip drooping, then we have done our job.”

Christo’s work at William Weston Gallery’s booth will be strangely familiar in London this summer. Maquette for Mastaba. The Bench. Project for Abu Dhabi, version for the Art Museum Cologne (1986). Courtesy of William Weston Gallery.

Good labeling of works at the fair is a subject close to Hewat-Jaboor’s heart. He encourages his peers to be transparent about the price of works on their booths because it makes good business sense. “People might think that something costs £50,000, so don’t ask about it, when it might actually cost £15,000,” he says. The fair’s website now includes a how-to section for newbie collectors. The first is about how to read a label.

There will also be a talk at the fair on the subject. Speakers at “How to read a gallery label: What to look for and questions to ask when buying works of art from galleries,” include Jo Baring, the director of the Ingram Collection of Modern and Contemporary British Art. Founded by the businessman turned philanthropist Chris Ingram, who started collecting  Modern and contemporary British art in 2002, the collection now has more than 650 works of art, more than half of which are typically on loan to public institutions.  

Masterpiece London 2018, June 27 (preview), June 28 through 4 July, the Royal Chelsea Hospital, London.

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