It’s 5 p.m. at the beginning of Frieze Week in New York. Nazy Vassegh, the CEO of Masterpiece London, has just enough time to meet for an hour at the Loews Regency Hotel in between a private tour of the Guggenheim and a visit to the opening of the Spring Masters fair on her quick four-day trip to New York. “Right now it’s all about delivery and spreading the word, bringing more and more people into the Masterpiece community,” explains Vassegh.
Such is the life for the head of a major fair. It’s just two months before the 2016 edition of Masterpiece London, which takes place June 30 to July 6 just a short walk from Sloane Square at the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Touting itself as “the leading international cross-collecting fair for art, antiques and design,” the event spans 5,000 years of art history, encompassing exhibitors from Van Cleef & Arpels and Swedish design gallery Modernity to De Backker Medieval Art and Axel Vervoordt. For Vassegh, the crucial months leading up to the fair consist of a flurry of business trips and meetings with participants. “I have no regular days, which is fantastic,” says Vassegh.
Vassegh fell into the art world by happenstance. After studying politics, economics and law at the University of Essex, she obtained a summer internship at Sotheby’s London in the Old Master Painting department. “I absolutely fell in love,” she recalls. Soon she was hired to work in the marketing department before going on a random trajectory throughout the auction house, switching departments every two years. Vassegh worked in the jewelry division, setting up a program called Sotheby’s Preferred, and eventually became managing director of the Impressionist & Modern Art division. “One of the things I never wanted to do was specialize, because I liked absorbing it all,” says Vassegh, who left Sotheby’s just before her 20th anniversary with the company.
“I felt I had learned so much, and that if I didn’t leave and try to do something for myself then I never would,” she says. Vassegh started her own art advisory firm, learning what it was like to approach a fair from the perspective of the collector.
In 2013 she was appointed chief executive of Masterpiece London. The fair takes place during the time of the year when the city attracts the most high-net-worth earners, thanks to the summer auctions and Wimbledon, which both overlap with Masterpiece
Vassegh recalled the time Anna Wintour and her daughter paid a visit to Masterpiece during her first year at the fair after Wintour’s favorite player, Roger Federer, was knocked out of Wimbledon: “She was utterly charming and really engaged, and seriously interested in the things she was looking at.”
While glamour is indeed part of Masterpiece’s DNA, thanks to exclusive high-end food vendors like Le Caprice and Scott’s, Vassegh asserts that the fair is very user-friendly and accessible. “When you come in, you have this enormous sense of space,” she says. “We have wide aisles and everything is beautifully lit.” That openness attracts collectors of all sorts, with prices and items that range from under $1,500 for portrait miniatures to $22 million for a 1914 Cartier corsage. The fair also includes around 100 events, from a gala to educational programming and daily talks. “We want the fair to be a place to learn,” she says. Each year, Masterpiece London supports a different charity. This year is Children in Crisis, which is headed up by Sarah Ferguson.
To Vassegh, Masterpiece is ultimately all about discovery. “It can be a tiny little 17th-century box, a piece of jewelry, or a Roman bust. You never know what you may find—and that’s really exciting.”