Art fairs are surely one of the spectacles of our age – vast international events where great art and wonderful objects are gathered before their new owners whisk them away. A colourful parade of gallerists interact with leading collectors, who are allowed into the fair in order of importance, with high-flyers getting first dibs. And fairs are a great way to gauge collecting trends such as the shift in recent years from challenging conceptual art towards “stuff you can put on your walls”, whether that’s paintings or digital art.
One trend that has been front and centre at the Masterpiece London art fair since its inception in 2010, though, is cross-collecting, the name given to the business of collecting across multiple fields. That might mean Old Master drawings and fashion photography, or contemporary ceramics and 18th-century French furniture, all gathered under an elegant temporary roof in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
“Cross-collecting seems to be gaining popularity – I think people are getting braver in their choices for their homes,” says London-based interior designer Sophie Paterson. She curated the Savills Salon at this year’s Masterpiece fair, where visitors could come and meet the Savills expert team. “People are less concerned with the latest trends and they have a greater awareness of sustainability,” Paterson explains. “I’m seeing clients who previously would never have considered buying antiques now really embracing them. They’re not feeling like they have to stick to any rules, they’re just going with what they love.”
When it came to designing the Savills Salon, “an oasis of calm amid the bustle of the fair”, Paterson endeavoured to practise what she preaches, combining “the kind of antiques you find in country homes with cutting-edge contemporary pieces”. Tables and chandeliers by Tom Faulkner and Cox London cosy up to chairs and bookcases cherry-picked from Lorfords Antiques. While Paterson admits this is an eclectic mix, it succeeded in bringing the outdoors in – which was precisely her aim.
If 20 years ago the acme of a fashionable interior was a minimalist New York loft, its white walls adorned by a vast but solitary contemporary painting, today our ideal is more likely to be richly maximalist, layering fascinating objects, perhaps in a fashionable “cabinet of curiosities”, where each piece has a story to tell.
“When you combine pieces from different eras and different styles it gives a more layered look to your home, and people are seeing the value in that,” says Paterson. “Where that aesthetic is done well – in English country houses, for example – these families have been collecting for generations. You can’t emulate that by installing everything in one go. It takes time and an eye for enduring quality.”
The stories artefacts tell are key to the appeal of cross-collecting. A bronze Greek breastplate, for instance, might be as handsome as a classical statue, but aren’t we also curious about the unknown warrior who wore it into battle? If collecting contemporary art is about finding the makers whose work you love (then cosying up to their gallerists), cross-collecting is more likely to involve a series of journeys through specialist fields. It’s inquisitive as well as acquisitive. And if the contemporary art world is about who is hot right now, the cross-collector is more likely to be drawn to the obscure or recherché.
“You could spend months trawling different galleries and still not see the variety nor the standard of furnishings, antiques and paintings on display at Masterpiece,” says Paterson. “For me, it has always been an amazing opportunity to see beautifully curated pieces from around the world, all in one setting – and what an incredible setting it is.”
Savills was the exclusive property partner of Masterpiece London, Royal Hospital Chelsea, London SW3; 30 June-6 July, 2022
Pictures from top: a display designed to appeal to the eclectic tastes of ‘cross-collectors’; Masterpiece London; Sophie Paterson, designer of the Savills Salon for the 2022 edition of Masterpiece; the Masterpiece London crowds