Anatomy of an art fair. Which type are you?
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The BSDs (Big Swinging Dealers)
…or Dealmakers, as you prefer: Larry Gagosian, Marian Goodman, Arne Glimcher, Bill Acquavella, Barbara Gladstone and their ilk – past and present kingmakers, of artists and collectors alike, who have shaped tastes, careers and the market itself.
“They’re the real lions and lionesses. They have played, and still play, a much bigger role in the world beyond whom they represent and what they sell,” says Jean-Paul Engelen, deputy chairman and worldwide co-head of 20th-century and contemporary art at Phillips. “They influence auctions, finances, museum collections, everything.”
Nathan Clements-Gillespie, the artistic director of Frieze Masters, adds context: “You can imagine Larry [Gagosian] living better than about 90 per cent of his clients. Not just because this is someone who has economic parity in that world – but because he has the eye, and the nous. And he’s known for having the global billionaire’s schedule down to a fine art.” (One prominent art-world figure describes the suppers the BSDs host thus: “You know that scene in Oliver Twist of Fagin’s dinner, where all the kids empty the loot from their pockets onto the table to impress the boss…? They’re a bit like that.”)
Find them: On yachts, or at Casa Malaparte (Gagosian) on Capri, in summer; at Scott’s and Harry’s Bar in London during Frieze Week; Mr Chow in Miami’s W Hotel South Beach – owned by über-collector Aby Rosen – in December; toggling between Frieze in Los Angeles and Gstaad (where elite boarding school Le Rosey hosts its annual unofficial gala “week”) in February; the Hôtel du Cap for the amfAR Gala in May. And year-round at Harry’s Bar in Venice (“That’s absolutely a thing, and it matters which table,” says Engelen), or Sant Ambroeus – on Madison, not West 4th – in Manhattan.
Spot them: By their low-key casual but super-fine finery. It looks like a uniform (blazer, shirt, khakis, boat shoes), but is invariably the absolute lushest and most expensive version thereof (Cucinelli, Charvet, Loro Piana etc).
They stay: At The Mark (NYC) or Claridge’s (London). On a yacht, again, or at The Gritti Palace or The Cipriani (Venice); at Les Trois Rois in Basel.
The behind-the-scenes operators who wield subtle but real power: PRs, fair directors, VIP consultants. Sometimes even chefs (think The River Café’s Ruth Rogers or Margot Henderson at Rochelle Canteen, shaping stature with their table placements and the events they might cater).
Spot them: By their au courant understatement. On trend (but not too), particularly for the PRs: Saint Laurent suits, Loewe statement coats, sneakers (most likely by Balenciaga). If still in doubt, Raf Simons x Prada. “You’re telegraphing relevance – too much last season and people might take you for last season,” says Frieze Masters’ Clements-Gillespie. “But obviously vintage is good too.” Appends Engelen: “They’re dressing down, but no one wants to look like an accountant.”
Find them: Everywhere. The nature of the various roles keeps this cohort circulating through every stratum of high and low. “That’s the job,” Clements-Gillespie says. “Someone has to be as comfortable in a car park in Peckham [locus of art exposition space Bold Tendencies, with Frank’s upstairs for a spritz in the warm months] as at Mark’s Club.” In Miami, they might be at Casa Tua (a flamboyant scene stalwart) one night, the restaurant at the Rubells’ new museum in Allapattah – or a taco truck, for that matter – the next. And New York, the same, from Dimes Square to Peterboro.
They stay: Les Trois Rois, again, in Basel; The Upper House in Hong Kong; Chateau Marmont in LA; and in Venice, a decent Airbnb will do.
The Old-Masters Masters
Their preserve is 14th- to 17th-century paintings, drawings and sculpture; and they still care about the connoisseurship, the relationships, the actual art – and the lifestyle. (“No potential sale is so huge it could convince them to give up their three weeks in August at the Punta Tragara” on Capri, says Clements-Gillespie.) Well-travelled, deeply culturally conversant, with an unerring eye that can detect a masterpiece hiding under centuries of grime from across a crowded viewing.
Spot them:: Elegant is the default, a well-judged hit of eccentricity a plus. The sprezzatura of the art world is concentrated here (see: Florence-based dandy Fabrizio Moretti, who has parlayed the cane he walks with into a much-admired style statement). Possibly going with a cravat, but probably not going full signet ring (caveat: Lampedusa’s Barone del Biscotto – not the vibe these pros aim to cultivate). Anderson & Sheppard for suits, Lobb (the real one, on St James’s) for shoes, shirts and Nehru vests from New Year’s in Jaipur. Pyjamas from Maison Degand in Brussels, probably a jacket from Lanz in Salzburg.
Find them: In London, they’re up in the mezzanine at the Wolseley for supper, and at Wiltons for lunch; in New York, at Le Bilboquet and Cipriani 42nd Street; in Venice, at Antiche Carampane or Da Franz. Invariably, Maastricht in March for TEFAF, packing the tables at Mediterraneo and the always-buzzing Café Sjiek.
They stay: In their flats overlooking Hyde Park or Regent’s Park; in Venice, at the Cipriani – or, better yet, a private palazzo or grand piano nobile flat, ideal for entertaining (with catering by Arabeschi di Latte, naturally).
The Stealth Mega Collector
You wouldn’t necessarily know him or her if you’re outside the art world, or even, in some cases, inside it. Amazing taste, deeply researched, knows the market. Already has a significant collection, may have migrated away from a long-term relationship with one or two dealers to work with an advisor, or on their own. “A lot of them don’t host [events], and won’t have a museum,” says Clements-Gillespie. “And the really stealth ones we might well not even know about at the fair, because the dealers keep them so close to their chests.”
Spot them: They could be dressed like your wealth manager, but equally like your dad – or possibly your dog walker. There’s an American husband-and-wife collector couple famous for doing low-fi (think Birkenstocks) to even the big events. Richard Scott, founder-CEO of London-based PR consultancy Scott & Co, whose clients include Frieze, Thomas Dane Gallery and the Royal Academy, recalls an invitation to the private museum opening of a serious Chinese collector, who welcomed guests to the Beijing event wearing a simple tracksuit – and hosted the next evening’s dinner in the same attire. “I thought it was really cool,” Scott says. “And by the way, it was one of the most beautiful private museums I’ve seen.”
They go: To the fairs, sometimes but not always, and not to air-kiss or do the usual soft-power relationship building. “At Basel, they’d be there the Tuesday and Wednesday only,” says Phillips’ Engelen, adding that they often head straight upstairs for the important inventory put aside. In Venice, they might put in an appearance, say, on San Giorgio Maggiore for the Pinault dinner – “but briefly, because their guests want to go, then they’ll go to Da Frantz or Al Covo for dinner”, says Clements‑Gillespie.
They stay: At home – a handful keep places in Basel, reckons Clements-Gillespie – or in the usual-suspect hotels. Some, in Venice and through the summer, on yachts; “So they can be invisible. You’d only know they’re there if you’re invited – or you have the MarineTraffic app.”
The Alpha Advisors
The new old guard, many of them ex-gallerists or auctioneers. “Ten or 12 years ago, advisors were fairly peripheral, and were viewed with suspicion,” says Scott. “These days they’re absolutely at the centre of the action” – and a handful are serious power brokers on par with the BSDs. “The really good ones do two things: they create financial context and they create art historical context. And they are thinking in the long term,” says Engelen; he cites Sandy Heller – whose clients have included Roman Abramovich and hedge fund manager/New York Mets owner Steve Cohen – as among the most respected, along with Heller’s associate, former Gagosian Paris director Jean-Olivier Després. “Sandy is quick, he’s efficient, and he’s super low-key.” Amy Cappellazzo also garners admiring words; the former Christie’s co-head of postwar and contemporary art left the auction house in 2014 to create Art Agency Partners with Allan Schwartzman – which was snapped up by Sotheby’s in 2016 for a price variously reported to be between $50m and $85m. (“Talk about salesmanship.”)
Spot them: Normcore. “Their three key words are trust, trust, trust, so they’re not really going to be the ones with the bright plumage,” Engelen notes. Heller and Després are often seen in a navy suit, with a sk‑blue shirt (and no tie).
They go: Wherever their clients want them: St John in EC1 when it’s Frieze Week, Rochelle Canteen when it’s not; Milos or Mandolin in Miami. Duddell’s, with its top-notch dim sum, was the pre-Covid perennial in Hong Kong.
Come in all sizes and shapes: ambitious artists, social mountaineers, shiny new tech and hedge multi-multimillionaires. Minor (and some not so minor) celebs who possibly wouldn’t know a Basquiat from a Beato Angelico, but have heard it’s cool to make the scene in Miami. Which it is: “It feels a bit like the art world’s staff Christmas party,” says Engelen. “You see people mixing everywhere – there tends to be cross-pollination, like everyone ends up at Soho Beach House.”
He cites other scalable social landscapes at a raft of new winter-season events, such as the Engadin Art Talks and the Verbier Art Summit. And Gstaad, in particular the LUMA foundation’s Elevation 1049 series, curated by Neville Wakefield and Olympia Scarry. Venice, says Clements-Gillespie, is a favourite with the straight-up party crashers, who are aided by its abundant water access: “You could be at the White Cube gala at the Mercato del pesce di Rialto, and people will rock up in some teeny boat they’ll have charmed a local into giving them a lift in.”
Spot them: Young, usually dead attractive, charming, dressed to impress (on a sample-sale budget: Chloé, Celine, Giuliva Heritage x H&M, if they were lucky enough to get some of it). Possibly accessorised with a huge bouquet they nabbed from the last dinner they were at; “The party crasher has the knack of picking up the prop that ties it all together,” says Clements-Gillespie.
They go: Wherever there’s a free meal or a likely plus‑one on a VIP card.
They stay: Wherever there’s a spare sofa.