Hewat-Jaboor took a right turn towards a suite of galleries that epitomize the Masterpiece ethos—an almost comical explosion of formal boundaries. A single booth can have a English walnut Nakashima table from a prominent Washington, D.C., political family and a bronze muscle cuirass from 3rd-century Greece alongside a 1980
painting. Next door, a dealer is selling
masters, and then there’s a booth stuffed entirely with an Italian-made Riva yacht of pure mahogany, ready to hit the Thames (or, more likely, Antibes). This is a fair that begins with the familiar gambit of placing a flashy work smack-dab at the entrance—in this case ’s Five Stages of Maya Dance
(2018), alabaster casts of the artist’s face in various stages of agony revealed through a film of mist, onto which her face is projected—and then quickly pivots to things that are unfamiliar to most fairgoers: 13th-century missals on the life of Jesus Christ, sporty Rolls Royces,
cabinets not seen in hundreds of years, Egyptian sarcophagi, giant black bronzes of octopi. There are dealers peddling fossilized ferns and space asteroids. Hewat-Jaboor said this is all part of a well-calculated strategy.
“We are opening up worlds and taking away the fear of seeing different works of art at the same time,” he said while walking through the booth of Adrian Sassoon
, who was showing rack after rack of exquisite porcelain works. “It opens up the market again.”
The MCH Group certainly thinks so. The 67.5% stake it’s taken in Masterpiece is the first acquisition the conglomerate has made in the U.K., and it comes as the company is working to diversify its portfolio of trade shows. The Baselworld watch fair has traditionally been MCH’s cash cow, but perhaps due to downward
trends in the watch market, the MCH Group has increasingly looked for new categories and regions into which to expand. It launched the car fair Grand Basel, which will have its first edition in Basel, Switzerland, in September. It snapped up
the art-viewing platform Curiator. And it launched the so-called Regional Fairs Initiative, which has, thus far, taken a 25.1% stake
in Art Dusseldorf and a 60.3% stake
in India Art Fair. (Though often conflated by dealers, collectors, and the press, these initiatives all run separately from the Art Basel fairs in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong.) Hewat-Jaboor was mum on the precise details of MCH’s investment, but he said that the 102-year-old company’s experience operating internationally was of particular value to Masterpiece as it expands.
Multiple exhibitors noted distinct changes in the fair’s vibe following the cash infusion. Galerie Von Vertes
director Quirine Verlinde said her gallery had participated in Masterpiece during one of the fair’s first years, but didn’t return until last year. She said that the MCH Group’s vote of confidence had led her gallery to double down this year by bringing seriously pricey works, such as a £4 million abstract painting by
, which is among the more expensive contemporary offerings at the fair. The bet paid off, as the gallery had a work by
on hold just hours into the eight-day event. Verlinde directly attributed a rise in American and Asian collectors to the new investors and the major galleries that have been attracted to Masterpiece as a result.
“You really notice the difference,” she said.
Verlinde added that the appeal of the fair is its ability to cast a wide net, drawing in collectors of disparate types of objects. “We can sell everything from
,” she said. “The mix of everything is so exciting.”