Your summer 2019 guide to exhibitions, auctions and art fairs in London
From Masterpiece London to Christie’s Classic Week and beyond, we survey the events that make London the place to be for art lovers, connoisseurs and collectors
Chelsea Hospital, 27 June to 3 July
For one week in late June collectors, museum curators and dealers from around the world assemble for Masterpiece London, one of the finest cross-disciplinary art fairs in the world. The layout of the fair, with its careful juxtaposition of disciplines, offers visitors the opportunity to discover beautiful works of art spanning eras and styles.
‘The cross-collecting ethos is paramount to the success and global appeal of Masterpiece,’ confirms Philip Hewat-Jaboor, the fair’s chairman. ‘The mix on display encourages visitors to engage with works of art with which they may be less familiar.’ Judging by the attendance of 51,000 visitors in 2018 and a new international outpost launching at Fine Art Asia in Hong Kong this October, the strategy appears to be working.
Of the 157 exhibitors this year, 24 are newcomers. Among them are some well-known international names, including jewellers Bentley & Skinner and London-based contemporary specialists Richard Saltoun.
Richard Saltoun, director of the eponymous gallery, stresses that ‘not only does the fair take place at an opportune time, it also attracts London-based and international collectors beyond the visual arts.’
For its Masterpiece debut, the gallery presents a solo display of work by Italian artist Bice Lazzari (1900-1981), one of the most innovative abstractionists of the 20th century. The exhibition is part of the gallery’s 12-month programme dedicated to supporting under-recognised and under-represented female artists.
Masterpiece Presents, launched in 2017 as a dedicated exhibition space at the fair’s entrance, has been ‘tremendously successful in raising the global awareness of the great diversity of art, especially contemporary art, on offer at Masterpiece,’ says Hewat-Jaboor, while also helping to attract a new group of younger potential collectors. This year visitors will be welcomed by a monumental sculptural installation by Phyllida Barlow, which references the super-sized ‘pom-pom’ works that she first developed in the 1990s.
Sculpture Series, a new selling sculpture exhibition in the central areas of the fair, will complement Barlow’s technicoloured work. Curated by Jo Baring, director of the Ingram Collection of Modern British and Contemporary Art, it brings together modern and contemporary works by celebrated artists, including Gary Hume, Tony Cragg and Pietro Consagra.
Masterpiece, however, is far more than just a commercial trade fair. It also offers a wide programme of educational events and talks, a vetting mentor scheme for the new generation of dealers, and excellent food courtesy of Urban Caprice.
‘It’s essential that we continue to break down the boundaries around buying art and encourage a younger generation to feel excited about the possibilities of living with it,’ concludes Hewat-Jaboor. ‘This is important not only for the longevity of Masterpiece, but also for the wider art market as a whole.’
With nearly 22,000 visitors, 16 world record auction records set, and registered bidders from 72 countries, Christie’s Classic Week in December 2018 was one of the strongest UK editions to date.
‘December saw a rich cross-section in all the classic collecting categories,’ explains Orlando Rock, Chairman of Christie’s in the UK. ‘The dramatic mise en scène, inspired by that designed for the collection by Axel Vervoordt, unified the breadth of fascinating works stretching from antiquity to “Golden Age” Old Masters.’
Certainly, cross-category collecting is not a new phenomenon. The great tastemakers, from Yves Saint Laurent and the De Noailles to David Hicks and Hubert de Givenchy, have, says Rock, inspired others with their vision and confidence in combining works of art from all periods, materials and schools.
‘By dramatically juxtaposing works of contrasting periods theatrically during Classic Week, we are able to bring an innovative approach to our display,’ he says. ‘It makes for a much more dynamic and surprising conversation across cultures. As the Rothschild display this July will reveal, great works of art belong together.’
Christie’s Classic Week July 2019, which spans nine days and 11 sales, offers an extraordinary breadth of objects from antiquity to the 20th century.
Among the standout antiquities coming to Classic Week this July are a 3,000-year-old stone bust of Tutankhamen, the most famous Egyptian pharaoh; and a Roman portrait head of a man, dating to the Antonine period (circa 2nd century AD).
The lead stamp branded into the back of the head identifies this bust as part of a donation of antique marbles made by Italian bishop Giovanni Grimani (1506-1593) to the Venetian state in 1586. The bust probably ended up in a French private collection following the sales of the ‘second Grimani Collection’ in the 19th century.
Elsewhere, there’s everything from exquisite enamelled snuff-boxes, offered in a dedicated Gold Boxes auction on 3 July, to a rediscovered landscape by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, offered in British & European Art on 11 July. Painted between 1840 and 1845, Les Maisons Cabassud à Ville d'Avray is one of an important collection of works by Corot depicting the tranquil village in which he spent the greater part of his life.
The Wallace Collection, until 1 September
Co-curated by the Spanish shoe designer Manolo Blahnik and The Wallace Collection’s director Dr Xavier Bray, An Enquiring Mind presents a curated selection of Blahnik’s greatest creations from his private archives alongside masterpieces from The Wallace Collection.
Each room in the exhibition pays tribute to a particular theme explored by Blahnik over his 50-year career, from the theatre and spectacle of the Commedia dell’arte to the 18th-century Rococo style. On display will be some of Blahnik’s most coveted creations, including the candy-coloured shoes designed for Sofia Coppola’s award-winning film Marie Antoinette, and his carefully worked, jewel-encrusted stilettos.
Christie’s Augusta Gallery, King Street, until 12 July
In 1994 London’s Royal Academy staged In Pursuit of the Absolute, an exhibition of antiquities from the collection of George Ortiz (1927-2013). To mark the show’s 25th anniversary, Christie’s is displaying some of the highlights in a non-selling exhibition at its London headquarters.
Curated by Christie’s Head of Antiquities G. Max Bernheimer, the exhibition showcases 17 works, including the Peloponnesian figure of a warrior in a plumed helmet in lace-up boots; a kouros, or marble torso, of a beautiful youth; and a krater, or egg-shaped vase, decorated with a centaur.
‘Ortiz was one of the pre-eminent collectors of his day,’ says Bernheimer. ‘It’s a privilege to be showing a selection of works from his collection on the anniversary of the fantastic show at the Royal Academy.’
Mayfair & St James’s, 28 June to 5 July
This bi-annual event brings together galleries and auction houses from across Mayfair and St James’s for a public programme of exhibitions, talks and events dedicated to the very best of pre-contemporary art. With 50 exhibitors, including 13 from abroad, London Art Week 2019 is set to be the biggest edition to date.
‘London Art Week offers collectors and enthusiasts a wonderful opportunity to interact with museum-quality artworks spanning 5,000 years on a one-to-one basis,’ explains Alexandra Toscano, director of Old Master Gallery Trinity Fine Art, which has been involved in the initiative since its conception six years ago. Trinity Fine Art and Georg Laue, Kunstkammer Ltd will present a Renaissance court casket with trompe l’oeil marquetry from Newbattle Abbey, dating to 1565 (above), that has not been seen in public since 1883.
Moreover, London Art Week offers visitors the opportunity to encounter works of art that are surprisingly good value: ‘Old Master drawings, for example, are a great entry point for new collectors, as is maiolica porcelain,’ explains Toscano. ‘If you're thinking about starting a collection, take this opportunity to talk to as many gallerists and auction house specialists as you can.’
For the forthcoming edition of London Art Week, Christie’s opens its doors for an exhibition of works from its Old Masters Paintings sales. Highlights include The Holy Family by the 17th-century Bolognese artist Simone Cantarini; and a refined and sensitively observed portrait of a praying nobleman (above) by the great Netherlandish painter Hans Memling, which is not only one of the last autograph works left in private hands, but also one of the artist’s earliest known paintings.
‘June is absolutely the moment to be in London,’ concludes Toscano. ‘It’s become an extremely important week for the international art market, as well as a great moment of cultural discovery and exchange.’
Christie’s, King Street, 21 June to 19 July
The Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012) was one of the greatest champions of post-war abstraction. He is best known for his mature mixed-media works that meditate on the metaphysical boundaries between matter and spirit.
Tàpies is the subject of the first Christie’s travelling private exhibition, curated in collaboration with Madrid-based Galeria Javier López & Fer Francés. Presented in the Spanish capital earlier this year, Xhibition: Antoni Tàpies explores the central role of the reccurring ‘X’ motif in the artist’s work. Including museum loans and works for sale, this intimate show at Christie’s London will appeal to post-war collectors and enthusiasts alike.
The National Portrait Gallery, 27 June to 15 September
Cindy Sherman has been exploring the fragile boundaries between fiction and reality, truth and illusion since her Untitled Film Stills series catapulted her to fame in the late 1970s.
In this groundbreaking work, comprising 70 self-portraits, Sherman dresses up, role plays and performs for the camera, adopting stereotypical female identities, from the 1950s Hollywood movie star and struggling supporting actress in film noir, B movies and European art-house films to the office girl and the housewife.
In May 2017 Christie’s in New York auctioned an edition of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #21 (1978) for $871,500. Now it headlines a new Cindy Sherman retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Exploring the artist’s sustained interest in performance, Cindy Sherman brings together around 180 works from the 1970s to the present day, including the complete Untitled Film Stills series, which goes on public display for the first time in the UK, and all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl Series, completed when she was a student.
Regent’s Park, 3 July to 6 October
London’s largest free outdoor sculpture display, featuring works by more than 20 internationally recognised artists — to include Tracey Emin, Robert Indiana and Huma Bhaba — returns to leafy Regent’s Park.
Stroll around the English Gardens and marvel at monumental sculpture, including Emin’s touching bronze When I Sleep from 2018, and Barry Flanagan’s 2008 Composition, depicting a hare dancing atop two elephants.
Clare Lilley, Director of Programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, made the selection and says the temporary sculpture park ‘promises to intrigue and give pleasure to the many hundreds of thousands of residents, workers and tourists who will visit the gardens over the summer months.’