A former art fair head is taking a gamble on a new species of art fair without the booths, which launches in London this May.
Dubbed Eye of the Collector, the commercial exhibition is the brainchild of Nazy Vassegh, a London-based art adviser and the ex-CEO of Masterpiece. It will take place May 13 through 16 in London, coinciding with some auctions and other fairs including Photo London, Draw Art Fair London, and the Museums + Heritage show.
“There are lots of fairs around the world and they all feel the same experientially from the visitors’ and the collectors’ points of view,” Vassegh tells Artnet News. “So it was very important to me to evolve that into a scenario whereby it became experientially an enjoyable format.”
The self-funded experiment is being run by Vassegh and directed by another ex-Masterpiece colleague, Natalie Laverack. It seems a daring move to launch another art fair among an already- crowded landscape, but Vassegh explains that Eye of the Collector is not really a fair in any conventional sense.
“It would have been quite easy with my background to go and start another fair,” Vassegh tells Artnet News. “But I really felt it was important to deliver something fresh and exciting that the market and the collectors would respond to.”
Vassegh says that she herself has avoided labeling the initiative an art fair, describing it instead as “a creatively-driven selling exhibition.” Nevertheless, people buzzing about it began calling it an “alternative fair” and the moniker has stuck.
Beyond the White Tent
“I wanted to move away from the white boxes and big tents, and into a grand domestic setting that is sort of like an imaginary collector’s home,” Vassegh says, adding that she wanted the works of art to reclaim center-stage rather than a gallery’s branding strategy. “It’s about living with art and artworks,” she says.
As such, choosing a venue for the fair was an all-important decision. Vassegh settled on a late Victorian neo-Gothic mansion in central London. The ornate house was commissioned by the world’s richest man in 1892, the statesman and collector William Waldorf Astor. Vassegh is hoping people will be drawn in to take a peek inside one of London’s historic buildings, designed by the architect John Loughborough Pearson, who is better known for his cathedrals.
Eye of the Collector will show a boutique selection of art across all disciplines and time periods from ancient to contemporary, an idea that sprang from the art adviser’s 25 years of experience in the art world.
“Many years ago, I set up something called Sotheby’s Preferred, which is a top-tier client program at Sotheby’s. The main focus of that was about cross-selling and cross-collecting,” Vassegh says. “So this isn’t a new phenomenon in the art world, it is a label that a lot of people are using.” She adds that in her work as an independent art adviser, she has found some of the most interesting collections to be those which juxtapose old with new, and contain different types of artworks.
Some 30 dealers are taking part in the first edition, which Vassegh describes as mostly international galleries that also have a base in London. The exhibitor list is slated to be released in March, and Vassegh promises that there will be some “notable galleries” on it, although there will also be a range of galleries with a lower price range taking part. “When you go into a collector’s home, you get things across all price ranges,” she explains.
Vassegh sees Eye of the Collector as the next generation of presenting artwork for sale by galleries. Galleries big and small have been charged a flat participation fee, which she says is still “a lot less expensive” than getting a booth and dressing it at any other art fair.
“We have priced ourselves very competitively because one of the important things was to support the market and the marketplace in London,” Vassegh says. “This is a city that I’ve grown up with and which has looked after me and supported me in the art world for nearly 30 years and I feel very close to it.”
As to whether she is hoping the first edition will attract investors, Vassegh wouldn’t comment. For the moment, she said, she is purely focused on making the inaugural edition a commercial success for the dealers.
Eye of the Collector runs May 13 through 16 at 2 Temple Place, London, and is open to the public May 15 and 16.
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