The organisers of Masterpiece London had been bullish about their chances of going ahead with the fair at the end of June, despite the fact that its venue-mate, Chelsea Flower Show, postponed its event at the Royal Hospital Chelsea until September months ago.
The art, antiques and design fair, which has become almost as much of the London summer season as Wimbledon and Royal Ascot, had been scheduled to open just days after the UK is due to emerge from lockdown on 21 June.
But with much of Europe once again shutting down due to rising coronavirus cases and £5,000 fines for anyone going on holiday abroad from the UK, the idea that life will be “back to normal” come mid-June is looking increasingly uncertain. And the very idea of an art fair of some 200 exhibitors even more so.
Lucie Kitchener, chief executive of Masterpiece London, says this is a “very disappointing but necessary pause”.
She says of the decision to cancel: “Really, two things drove us to the reluctant decision—one is that as more travel restrictions were coming into place again for lots of our European and US galleries, it was becoming increasingly clear they wouldn’t be able to travel to the fair. But the real determinate was that we don’t even know what the announcement on 21 June, the day before we start vetting, will be. And with what’s happening with the third wave in Europe, everything is becoming increasingly risky and we couldn’t ask galleries to commit.”
Calling it now, Kitchener says, seems the right decision. “There probably isn’t a single scenario I haven’t considered…we did look at moving it to later in the year but everything is now happening in the same eight weeks at the end of the year. In the end, you have to be offering an opportunity that doesn’t already exists. And part of the magic of Masterpiece is the location and the time of year.”
The fair will go online in some form but exact plans are still in discussion. “We want to try and make it as interactive as possible. We have even wondered about introducing a ‘Serendipity Button’ in the online version to replicate some of the sense of discovery!” Kitchener says.
For the next few months at least, the only feasible option for “in real life” events in London is the gallery trail or weekend model. Hence the newly launched London Gallery Weekend (4-6 June), featuring some 87 galleries across the city. The London Original Print Fair has also just announced a new initiative of promoting a series of print shows in the galleries of 33 of its long-standing exhibitors in lieu of the fair at the Royal Academy of Art (from 1-8 May).