Agnews at Masterpiece London. Photograph by Andy Barnham / courtesy of Masterpiece London

Collective Consciousness

Art Basel Europe vs. Masterpiece London

By Natasha Wolff
July 1, 2017

How to navigate two of the year’s most important design shows? Answer: Start planning now.

Every June, swarms of collectors and dealers descend on Masterpiece London and Art Basel to see what’s new in the world of art. Tempted? Planning ahead is key. With hundreds of dealers at each, “it’s critical to tackle the fairs methodically,” says Ed Tang, a director at art advisory firm Art Agency, Partners. Walking through the booths systematically, says Tang, is the only way to ensure you don’t miss a thing. Also important: Making the most of your time in the host cities! Here, our insider’s guide to navigating two of the year’s most daunting—but worthiest—art fairs, both during and after-hours.

Photograph courtesy of Art Basel
Photograph courtesy of Art Basel

Art Basel
Basel, Switzerland

The Swiss edition of this worldly art fair with annual outposts in Miami and Hong Kong has primarily focused on 20th and 21st century Modern and Contemporary Art since its launch in 1970. “The Basel audience is global and sophisticated,” says gallerist Angela Westwater of Sperone Westwater. Art Basel is bigger than Masterpiece in terms of numbers and diversity of galleries, with an emphasis on showcasing new works to billionaire buyers. (In 2016, big ticket sales included Paul McCarthy’s Tomato Head (Green), which sold for £3.3m, and Gerhard Richter’s 36-foot-wide digital print 930-7 Strip, which commanded £2.4m.) The massive fair, an hour’s train or drive from Zurich, is a real barometer for the art market in general and attracts art collectors, art advisors, curators, museum directors, and of course, those showing their best works. 2017’s fair brought 291 galleries to Switzerland.

2017 Highlights: Tom Wesselmann’s Drawing for Great American Nude #73 (1965), which came straight from the artist’s estate. “Wesselmann considered his studies to be finished works and I love seeing the artist’s hand,” says Bettina Prentice of Prentice Cultural Communications, which specializes in art partnerships. Other highlights included the last work made by artist Chris Burden, Ode to Santos Dumont (2015), which is an operational airship, and rare Max Beckmann prints from the 1910s and 1920s at Jörg Maas Kunsthandel.

Sustenance: Head to Chez Donati for an Italian dinner or grab an Aperol spritz on the buzzy terrace of the Schloss Binningen hotel. The new Herzog & de Meuron-designed Volkshaus Basel (set in a historic 1925 building) is a brasserie with a beer garden. Other timeless art world favorites include German boîte Volkshaus restaurant, Bahnhof St. Johann Thai-Restaurant for Thai food, and Union Restaurant for burgers. In Zurich, Kronenhalle is a must for dinner.

Stay: Les Trois Rois, Krafft Basel, Hotel D, Ramada Plaza Basel, and Der Teufelhof.

Offsite: Schaulager, a contemporary art exhibition space in a Herzog & de Meuron building that opened in 2003, is a must see.

Farther Afield: Nearby in Weil am Rhein, Germany, is the Vitra Design Museum, housed in a Frank Gehry building alongside the Vitra Schaudepot, which reopened in a yet another space designed by Herzog & de Meuron.

Photograph courtesy of Masterpiece London
Photograph courtesy of Masterpiece London

Masterpiece London
London, U.K.

Masterpiece started in 2010 and though it has just 150 exhibitors, the mix is quite rarified. The more intimate fair features fine art, antiques, luxury goods (including yachts, watches, and wines), design objects, furniture, decorative arts, jewelry, paintings, and sculpture (from ancient to contemporary). The civilized fair takes place on the historic 300-year-old grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in a specially-built pavilion. “The atmosphere at Masterpiece is more reminiscent of TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) in the Netherlands, and the focus, at least offsite, is on elegant dining at fancy restaurants,” says Westwater.

2017 Highlights: Adrian Sassoon for ceramics, Axel Vervoordt and Linley for antique furniture, Turnabuoni for Italian art, David Gill for design, and S.J. Phillips for jewelry.

Sustenance: Pop-up restaurants on site have included Le Caprice and The Ivy Chelsea Brasserie.

Stay: The Laslett in Notting Hill; The Beaumont in Mayfair.

Offsite: Escape to Daylesford Organic café and farm shop on nearby Sloane Square for lunch. Nearby, Pimlico Road has great antiques and design shops. Ed Tang is partial to Rose Uniacke and Soane. “Afterwards pop over to BlueBird Restaurant to celebrate your victories with an indulgent high tea before hitting their fantastically edited concept shop for clothing, accessories, and home goods,” says Prentice.

Farther Afield: Spring, in a restored 19th-century drawing room within Somerset House, is lovely for lunch; Marks Bar in Soho is always lively for cocktails; and check out the many distinctive dining rooms at Sketch for dinner.