Master Drawings New York (MDNY), one of the top events in North America focused on works on paper, has been purchased by a New York-based art gallery as the market for Old Masters art becomes increasingly slim.
Christopher Bishop Fine Art, a New York gallery specialising in drawings and paintings from the 15th through early 20th centuries, has purchased MDNY, which was founded in 2006 by Crispian Riley-Smith and Margot Gordon, two London-based dealers.
Old Masters expert Christopher Bishop–-a former MDNY advisory board member—will become president of the event, while the gallery’s associate director Cydney W. Williams will be its director. An advisory board of new and former MDNY board members has been assembled to support the fair's execution going forward.
Before the takeover, Bishop had participated in MDNY for ten years, and has more than two decades of experience in Old Master drawings. Bishop made headlines in 2020 after he discovered a misattributed Guercino painting. As part of that year’s MDNY, he displayed the painting next to its preparatory drawing, the first time the two works had been reunited in 300 years. The same year, Bishop rediscovered a misattributed drawing by Dutch master Jan Lievens.
“I am delighted Christopher Bishop has procured Master Drawings New York and am confident that he will look after our community in New York and beyond,” Riley-Smith said in a statement. “It is time for this marquee New York event to benefit from New York-based leadership. Chris is the best person to step up.”
The transition to New York-based leadership is also symbolically important to take the event “to the next level”, Bishop says.
“It’s Master Drawings New York and the New York part matters,” Bishop says. “We are the bridge to American clients and curators for our European participants. We are a focus for all the regional American museums to interface with—both American and European galleries. New York is the centre of the art world but it’s also a spoke in a big wheel. That’s what we’d like to be for drawings.”
The annual event typically includes more than two dozen galleries on New York’s Upper East Side in January, along with programming at local museums. The most recent iteration earlier this year welcomed 25 art dealers, including seven first-time exhibitors to the fair. The event is timed to coincide with the major Old Master auctions in New York at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
The fair’s new leadership will be aided in a new advisory board, which includes Stephen Ongpin from Stephen Ongpin Fine Art, Cliff Schorer from Agnews Works on Paper, Jill Newhouse from Jill Newhouse Gallery and Alan Salz from Didier Aaron. MDNY will also launch a new partnership with the non-profit Drawing Foundation to promote drawings-related scholarship, study and events. Bishop has pledged one-third of MDNY’s gross revenue for at least five years.
Old Masters have fallen from being the dominant category of the art market for decades. European Old Masters made up just 4% of the art market’s $26.3bn in sales in 2021, the most recent year which data is available for according to the Art Basel and UBS Art Market Report. Post-war and contemporary art accounted for 45% of the market in the same period. In January, Art Basel’s parent company MCH Group announced it had cancelled the 2023 edition of London art and antiques fair Masterpiece over escalating costs and a drop in international exhibitors.
“I do realise and understand fully that the Old Masters have some headwinds to face,” Bishops says, adding that education could help spark people’s interest. “You might have to spend a little more time asking questions and getting to know an older work. In our modern world, where everything moves faster and faster, it’s harder and harder to do that, but you have to get beyond the names and look at the stories of these pieces. We need to get beyond the headlines, beyond the idea that the art market is just about money.”
Bishops hopes to hold a highlights exhibition “very soon” to underscore MDNY’s 17-year history and how central it is to the larger world of Old Master drawings.
“I have now been in the business long enough to see some of the works I sold to private clients now enter museums,” Bishops says. “That’s very gratifying and makes you really understand that many of these drawings were here long before you were and will be here long after you.”