Masterpiece London 2013 - Behind the Curtain
On Monday morning the vetters arrived. 126 people divided into 26 committees gather to spend the day poring over every nuance of each piece on show in order to pass on their own special imprimatur. It is a long day, charged with intensity and emotion. Debates abound, within committees and between dealers, yet it is never angry, just heated academic discussions, and the fair is all the healthier for it.
In Le Caprice Paul and Gina hold sway. They are calm and elegant. Paul is over 6ft tall and has a neat head of red hair. But the hair colour does not indicate a fiery temper, quite the reverse - he is an elegant and controlled manifestation of good service, he is based normally at J Sheekeys off St Martins Lane. He has a slow swagger to his walk and he never seems rushed, he treats the restaurant as a sort of catwalk of which he is totally in charge. Gina is at the front desk and wears a well-cut green tweed jacket and black thick-framed glasses. She is of medium height and moves with a very distinctive and individual gait. Both of them hustle and bustle, always positive, always smiling and Le Caprice, though only a temporary pop up, runs like a well-oiled machine. Even on this, our vetting day, control and efficiency are by words.
On Tuesday we had our Curators Evening and the fair Patrons and museum curators and directors arrive at 6pm for their exclusive early view. Selven, our head of security, is at the door. I think he must have some sort of magical power because he is everywhere at once. If there is a problem Selven is there. I don't know how old he is but he has an inner calm and a friendly 'solve the problem' attitude which seems to come from ancient wisdom. Outwardly he appears a young man. Throughout the show all the security guards concentrate on smiling rather than giving the visitors grief. It is amazing, and actually unsurprising, that a friendly, helpful, smiling attitude diffuses issues. It is not a hard lesson but one that I encounter surprisingly rarely. The Curators Evening passes off well with the community gathering and heading off to Daphnes, after deep discussion and the occasional purchase. There I am seated next to Helen from the Sir John Soane Museum. She has given her professional life to the museum and is not unsurprisingly passionate about it. She is suffused with the excitement that is building as they undertake to bring back into circulation the current offices. I have been there myself to access the Robert Adam archive and the rooms are magnificent. It is and will be a herculean task but one that I know the public will greatly appreciate. Daphnes is part of the Caprice group and is delightfully cosy with rusticated plaster walls and soft curtains. Our Chairman Philip has ordered Gavi de Gavi, a Piedmontese wine which has lovely colour, freshness and is full of fruit. It goes down well. The conversations flow and we all move between tables chatting to Cleveland, New York, Boston as well as London and the counties. Everyone is buzzing with what they have seen and are looking forward to a return visit.
Wednesday is the big Preview day. By the end of the day over 6000 have passed through the doors. Steve, the pillar of calm who keeps our show in order logistically, comes up to me on Thursday to say we need to change the glass skip. We usually change it after the weekend but it is already full after 2 days. The Ruinart champagne is going down only too well. The aisles are heaving as I wander round at 8pm, and we are a few hundred people away from having hold the queue back until there are some leavers. The dealers are happy, business is being done, crowds are thronging. Helen on guard duty is feeling the pressure as visitors are keen to get in and they don't like being held up by a bag search. Six hours into the day she is still calm and controlled. Though born in the USA she spent most of her young life in Portugal. She speaks many languages and has a fantastic accent that I challenge anyone to place. But it is fabulous to see faces change as they are politely but firmly spoken to in their own tongue. Disarmed is not nearly strong enough.
Sunday morning and I am sitting in the Spitfire Cafe, the crew catering outside the fair. The air conditioning guy James, a good looking rangy guy with a harassed appearance, sits having a cup of tea. The tent site is bigger than two football pitches and as the weather changes from hot to cold on a sixpence and we have had periods of both burning sunshine and tropical downpours, his job is both thankless and impossible. I am sitting with Mike, a genial bearded man who is responsible for CCTV and the passes. He is suggesting we could have a live web stream of the fair to our website. Next to me is Emma who works for Steve the continuity guru. She is pocket sized and has a broad smile, she has named her quad bike Herbie, but woe betide you if you cross her. I have seen huge tattooed truckers quake in their boots if they try and bully her. The cafe itself is run by Dave and Tracy, they heap masses onto their client's plates, and I can honestly assert that the pigs have not died in vain who sacrificed their lives for our breakfasts. They are served with love and we all share this energetic, active and creative forum.
The weekend brings a different tone to the fair. Visitors who came in suits and ties during the week return in jeans and shorts. Families tuck in to burgers and fish goujons at Le Caprice and a garden party air pervades. But these are not tourists - serious business continues and conversations about objects and artworks continue as children pull on arms to drag their parents away. I wander along the aisles chatting to exhibitors and greeting friends. The mood is good and I am not being too berated about the vagaries of the internal temperature. Scotts, positioned in the middle of the fair, are selling seafood and the chefs are flat out all day cracking shells, slicing salmon and shucking oysters. I could watch it for hours.
The fair still has three days to run and we are sure to have many adventures before it closes on Wednesday.