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5 Questions with Crispian Riley-Smith, Co-Founding Director of Masters Drawings New York (MDNY)

January 13, 2020

Today we chat with Crispian Riley-Smith, Co-Founding Director of Masters Drawings New York (MDNY), coming up January 25 – February 1, 2020. Crispian has over three decades of experience in the art market, he has worked for the four main auction houses in London and is the founding director of London Art Week and co-founder of Master Drawings New York. He has worked as an independent dealer in drawings for over 20 years and now focuses on art valuations and consultancy in all areas of the market. So, we are excited to see what he’s up to!

Why did you start MDNY in 2006 and how has it grown and transformed over the years?

The motivation was to encourage and grow the market for works on paper and engage with buyers and those with a similar passion in the arts. When I co-founded it with Margot Gordon, the aim was very similar to the sister event I formed in 2001 called ‘Master Drawings London’, now ‘London Art Week’. Simply to promote the expertise of dealers; promote their stock; get the public to come into the galleries and provide an educational element.

The event has grown now to include paintings and sculpture dealers. Also, the event has grown since the appointment of Allison Wucher as a Director. She has been instrumental in growing the cultural links within the city of New York and with the key stake holders, from museums to auction houses to cultural societies such as ‘Drawing New York’ and the wider cultural environment in the US. Now, we have a symposium every year with ‘Master Drawings Journal’, and this year also sees the second event held at ‘The Met’. In addition, we have our third museum loan exhibition, and this year it is from Bowdoin College of Art. This is very exciting since it is one of the earliest collections of drawings formed in the US.

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What else will be showcased at MDNY besides old masters through to contemporary drawings?

Paintings and sculpture throughout the ages from antiquity to modern masters. In 2018, we decided to broaden the event to include these key disciplines for a number of reasons. Firstly, there were already some dealers also showing these objects in the city and it made sense to connect the dots. Secondly, the auction houses and also ‘The Winter Show’ were exhibiting these works. Thirdly, many collectors and museum curators cross collect.

However, the branding for ‘Master Drawings New York’ was one all our exhibitors wanted to keep since this is the best event focused on this discipline in the US. It became clear that the model for drawings could be applied to other areas of the market, and this is illustrated by the growth of MDNY and London Art Week.

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Is there a particular theme or focus this year?

Yes, it was not really deliberate, but the focus is women as artists, collectors, dealers and academics. It has sort of developed into this theme for 2020.
For ‘Women as Artists’ we have an event at The New York Historical Society called, ‘Artist in Exile: The Visual Diary of Baroness Hyde de Neuville’, in addition we have carefully selected for the cover of the Master Drawings New York 2020 Brochure ‘Blue Morning Glory’, a beautiful drawing in gouache by Barbara Regina Dietzsch; For ‘Women as Collectors and Dealers’ we have an event held with ‘The Society for the History of Collecting’, interviewing four women collectors and dealers; and ‘Women as Academics’ we have the symposium in partnership with the Master Drawings Journal where the editor, Jane Turner, is focusing on Felice Stampfle, who was the journals founding editor – the journal is now in its 58th year.

When it comes to collecting art, there is such a variety of media, styles and classifications. If a collector is looking to purchase drawings for the first time, what should they know?

There is no substitute for looking. We all have to start somewhere – it requires going to museums, exhibitions, art fairs and dealers. Absorbing oneself in the subject and just reading and looking. Buying a drawing, or any object, requires a connection with the object, and that is usually immediate. The buying component sometimes takes time and research.

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Can buying a drawing be a good investment? If so, what should a buyer consider?

Interesting question. The simple answer is yes and no.

I would advise buyers to buy what they really like, and what they can afford to buy, and also take a long-term view on their purchase. The idea of ‘flipping’ the purchase in a year or two is not something I would recommend. That is what dealers do and spend all their energy doing. That is not to say it is not possible to make good purchases. The opportunity for collectors is enormous. I would say that if a collector chooses an area to focus on, and I mean really focus on, whether it be illuminated manuscripts or French 18 century drawings, take two random subjects. If they become THE collector in that field, over time they will find that dealers offer them the first and sometimes best buys. Also, the collector is able to make discoveries of their own. It is an endless field and full of exciting buys. As a dealer, I am never bored by what is appearing new on the market.

Read more about and register for Masters Drawings New York (MDNY) here!

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