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Eye of the Collector: How Nazy Vassegh is transforming the art fair scene

Nazy Vassegh, art advisor and founder of Eye of the Collector, speaks to Effect Magazine about the groundbreaking London art and collectible design fair.

“Alongside October, June is London’s most important art moment,” says Nazy Vassegh, the founder of Eye of the Collector (26–29 June 2024), an art fair, but not of the traditional sort. “It’s at this time of year that London welcomes a high concentration of international visitors for the city’s consistently strong art season,” she continues, evidencing London’s resilient position as a global art hub, particularly in the wake of a tumultuous few years. “Collectors are being more selective about where they choose to travel now,” says Vassegh, not to flatter the capital, but to state a simple fact. “Venice in April, New York in May, and London in June,” recited as if an incantation.

The Romanesque-Byzantine Garrison Chapel in London forms a dramatic setting for 2024's Eye of the Collector fair, founded by Nazy Vassegh - Effect Magazine
The Romanesque-Byzantine Garrison Chapel in London forms a dramatic setting for 2024’s Eye of the Collector fair, founded by Nazy Vassegh (Photo courtesy of Peter Bennett)

While the art world’s commitment to London in June is unwavering (even in these post-Masterpiece days, for the fair was the lynchpin of the summer as Frieze London is to the autumn), Eye of the Collector is not bound to its venues, as art and collecting fairs so often are. Historically, it has taken Two Temple Place to be its home; an 1895 neo-Gothic mansion built by John Loughborough Pearson to house the offices of William Waldorf Astor, who founded the original New York City Waldorf Astoria on Fifth Avenue. For the Eye of the Collector’s fourth edition, it will inhabit a deconsecrated Victorian chapel set amongst the luxurious townhouses and apartments of the £3 billion Chelsea Barracks development.

The Garrison Chapel is the last vestige of the original 1859 George Morgan barracks, which was almost completely demolished in the 1950s. The chapel itself is now Grade II listed, much to the delight of developer Qatari Diar, who says it always wanted to retain the building as a cultural heart of the community. Now, under the occupation of The King’s Foundation, the educational charity established by King Charles III, the Garrison Chapel serves as a public exhibition space. It is here that Eye of the Collector will next land, parting from the mahogany-clad walls of Two Temple Place, its shadowy niches and nooks, to fill the bright white nave of the Romanesque-Byzantine chapel.

“The chapel is big and bright with high ceilings and beams,” says Rosie Alderton, events manager for the King’s Foundation, adding: “It really lends itself to the display of works of art.” Part of this appeal, for Alderton, is down to the bright, canvas-like space that the chapel provides. Still, there is also a huge draw for curators in the ornate original details that have been restored, such as the decorative glazed wall tiles and the encaustic mosaic floor uncovered during conservation works led by architects, PDP. “The artwork we show at the chapel, and the pieces that Eye of the Collector will exhibit here, can be in dialogue with the history of the building, which has been revealed in the restoration process,” says Alderton.

Ours is a dynamic fair, and we prioritise choice, placement and the collector journey

Nazy Vassegh, founder of Eye of the Collector
Nazy Vassegh, founder of Eye of the Collector (Photo courtesy of Alex Board)

“What I love about the chapel is that it’s been rarely seen,” says Vassegh. “I feel like we’re opening up a historic landmark.” For Vassegh, Eye of the Collector is not only about the discovery of contemporary and Modern art and artists. It is also committed to spotlighting London’s rich architectural heritage and supporting buildings of specific cultural and historic interest. “It’s important and close to my heart that we work in historic buildings and with the foundations that protect and maintain them,” she says.

While Vassegh is enthusiastic about the benefits of collaborating with significant buildings, she is also conscious of the demands on event organisers to incorporate sustainable practices into staging major art events. “I don’t ever want us to be putting up temporary structures,” she says, alluding to the resource-heavy process of transporting, building, and then heating or cooling a structure with minimal insulation.

There are echoes of this progressive approach in the size and style of the events Vassegh organises, too. “Eye of the Collector is a concept that evolves year to year,” says Vassegh. “We have to be commercial, yes, but the experience has got to be interesting for every collector that comes through the door.” To this effect, Eye of the Collector is already one of the smallest fairs in the art world’s calendar. Just 21 galleries took part in 2023, and this year, there will be fewer, for the venue will be smaller. “Ours is a dynamic fair,” Vassegh says, “and we prioritise choice, placement and the collector journey as opposed to the standard booth-by-booth structure. We want to avoid ‘fairtigue’!”

Vassegh’s final point is one that niggles in the back of her mind. “We never want Eye of the Collector to be defined by its location,” she says. “The idea is to place art and design in conversation with architectural settings. Our next edition will be in a different, equally important historic building.” It’s clear that for Vassegh, the venues that the fair inhabits are significant parts of its story, like the dog-eared pages of a novel. But these historic buildings, however magnificent, should never be protagonistic. “The buildings are the backdrop for the artworks, which we will always treat as the heroes,” she says.

Eye of the Collector will take place 26–29 June 2024 at Garrison Chapel, Chelsea Barracks, London SW1W 8BG

Read more: Events | Design  | Art | Interiors | Vintage | Mid-Century | London