TEFAF in Maastricht: The taste of fine art in an elegant city
April 19, 2010 Leave a Comment
“If you’re going to do one art fair, Maastricht has to be it,” said Jean-Luc Baroni, a London-based Old Master pictures dealer.
Every spring the city of Maastricht hosts The European Fine Art Fair, better known under its acronym: TEFAF. It is a celebration of art in all of its forms: sculptures, classical antiquities, Asian art, pottery and porcelain, ceramics, glass and crystal, bronzes and metal work, textile arts, furniture, tribal art, modern art, design, photography and even jewelry and books, manuspripts and maps. The public displays the same eclectic exclusivism, coming from all around the world, from all professional fields – often holding top positions, as a global “crème de la crème” reunited in Maastricht.
This year’s edition, the 23rd already, took place from 11 to 21 March and laid a special focus on drawing, with the opening of a new section « TEFAF on Paper ».
I had the chance to take part in the organization of the fair as an assistant for a Portuguese gallery specialized in 17th and 18th century Chinese porcelain, Flemish paintings, alabaster sculptures and southern European rare fine art. It was an experience I greatly enjoyed, from day one until the last moments when all artworks were taken away and prepared for shipment back to their original locations.
Collectors, experts in the field and art historians alike agree to refer to the event as the best classical art fair in the world because of the guarantee of authenticity it provides for the objects on sale.
Each year the most important collectors and museum curators gather at TEFAF, bringing their best items for sale. The Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Center (MECC) last month was transformed into a unique museum shop, where everything – from an extraordinary Chinese figure of a foreigner dating from the late Sui or early Tang period (Chinese art specialist Gisèle Croës), a stunningly simple 2500-2400BC Cycladic marble head (Rupert Wace), very rare early Japanese prints by Hashiguchi Goyô (exhibited at Tefaf on Paper by Parisian dealer Tanakaya) to more classical names such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Alberto Giacometti, Edgar Degas or Claude Monet – could be purchased.
On an area as large as of six football pitches, the fair gathered 263 exhibitors from 17 countries and almost 75000 visitors from across the globe, not to mention tons of flowers and hundreds of bottles of champagne. The overall estimated value of artworks on display was EUR 2.6 billion.
The duration of the fair covers one private preview day and ten open public days. Yet, it’s worth pointing out that galleries start preparing their exhibition booth for weeks ahead of the event.
Two days before the start, all galleries need to pass the final stage of preparation, when 155 experts known as vetters proceed to the careful inspection of the artworks on display, in order to guarantee their quality.
photo by Loraine Bodewes
Gallery owners are required to leave the premises, and for the next 24 hours, thousands of objects are examined by teams of art historians, auction-house experts and curators armed with flashlights and magnifying glasses. Each expert comes in with his own specialization and authority in his field. Credibility and authority in the art world are what TEFAF stands for.
During the vernissage, many important works of overwhelming value are sold at first glance to the most special guests and influencers of the art market. This year just two hours into the vernissage on the 11th of March, the electricity went out for close to ten minutes. Luckily nothing was stolen, but rumors and panic made gallery created a certain feeling of danger and insecurity among gallery owners, even if the matter was solved fairly promptly. A similar incident took place again on the last Saturday of the event, when at 10 a.m. a city shortage of electricity kept visitors outside until 1 p.m., making all parties, both gallery owners and public unhappy with the loss of several hours with big potential.
London–based Dutch picture dealer and TEFAF veteran organiser, Johnny van Haeften, was optimistic from the beginning of the fair: “There’s an eagerness to buy, as opposed to the reluctance we felt here last year. The atmosphere is so much better, and if it all translates into good sales, all the better.”
Other dealers were less enthusiastic: “Those who are carrying their catalogue are not real collectors, real collectors pick up their catalogues on the way out.”
David and Bathsheba by Lucas Cranach
London-based dealer Bernheimer-Colnaghi sold a 1534 oil- on-wood painting of “David and Bathsheba” by the German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder to a European collector for an asking price of EUR 5.3 million. Selling prices are always confidential. London dealer John Mitchell Fine Paintings sold a 1611 winter landscape by the Dutch painter Adam van Breen to the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. It had an asking price of EUR 910,000. London dealer Dickinson found prospective buyers for around 20 major classical works, such as a 1926 Picasso painting, “Tete”, priced at USD 3.5 million and a 1834 Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot view of Florence, priced at USD 2 million bought by Tefaf exhibitor Daniel Katz. (Bloomberg)
Design sales boomed. This year, TEFAF involved nine outstanding design dealers: L’Arc en Seine, Eric Philippe and Galerie Downtown, all from Paris; Bel Etage from Vienna; Philippe Denys and Yves Macaux, both from Brussels; Rita Fancsaly from Milan; Galerie Ulrich Fiedler from Berlin and Sebastian + Barquet from New York. L’Arc en Seine sold the most expensive design item om the history of TEFAF: a Diego Giacometti 1972 floor lamp in plaster, which was ceded for the price of EUR 500,000 (artnet.com)
The market for Asian works of art also proved its increasing popularity. China’s flourishing economic situation was reflected in the sales of Chinese artefacts, not only to Chinese buyers who wished to acquire national artworks belonging to the country’s heritage, but also to European collectors for whom they represent a good investment since the demand is growing. Rare porcelain plates were being sold at EUR 50000 a piece, wine coolers at EUR 60000 a pair, and hand painted flower pots for similar amounts.
In the new TEFAF on Paper section, the recent fascination for photography was manifested by large sales. The asking prices for Erwin Blumenfeld’s 1938 vintage silver print Nude in the Mirror and William-Eugene Smith’s 1948 gelatine silver print Walk to Paradise Garden, New York, were respectively EUR 38,000 and EUR 28,000 (ARTWOLF.com).
Various prints from all periods were assembled in this section, from photography, limited edition prints to antique books and manuscripts. One of the main items was a 16 page notebook that had belonged to Picasso priced at EUR 72000. Japanese works on paper were also on display, with as highlight a 1920 original print – price tag unknown – by Hashiguchi Goyō, renowned for his beautiful works portraying women.
In the contemporary art section works carried price tags for more than USD 1 million, such as the 1967 Rothko oil-on-paper abstract, “Untitled (Red, White, Orange),” offered by London-based Lefevre Fine Art. The work found an owner, an anonymous European buyer, who according to rumors among gallerists must have paid more than USD 3 million. One of the top sales was New York gallery Van de Weghe Fine Art, where Basquiat’s 1982 painting “Busted Atlas 2” was sold to a German collector for EUR 2.4 million (bloomberg.com.)
The artworks recently on the rise at international auctions and gaining a visible interest from collectors belong to the avant garde artists of the 50s and 60s of the Zero movement.Their group, founded in Düsseldorf affirmed a change in the perception of space and in viewing art, taking the number zero as reference point. To what extent the concept will be appreciated in future years however still remains to be seen. the artists were represented at several galleries at the fair, the most popular among them being the Dutch father of the group, self-taught artist Jan Schoonhoven and Guenther Uecker, a founding member of the Zero Movement, ,with works priced at EUR 400,000 at New York dealer Luxembourg & Dayan.
Lucio Fontana and Gunther Uecker, founding members Zero Movement
Lucio Fontana at the entrance of Axel Vervoordt gallery
Belgian gallery Axel Vervoordt, whose concept for TEFAF was a return to the source, to make a space away from excess back to the essence was also hosting a large selection of works representative of the Zero movement and the Gutai Group, an artist association from Japan with a similar perception of simplicity.
The Axel Vervoordt gallery deserves a mention not because of the turnover of its sales, but the design of its booth. Using natural elements such as wood and rock to showcase works about the simplicity of life, the gallery’s calm atmosphere provided a striking and welcome contrast with other, noisier, booths at TEFAF.
Axel Vervoordt Gallery
But, in the end, the stories that made the headlines after the fair,were the jewelry theft and some controversy around Damien Hirst’s dissected pig, sliced and submerged in formaldehyde in his work entitled This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home that was on sale for the value of 12 mil EUR.
This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home by Damien Hirst
What seems to impress the most about TEFAF are the big numbers and exciting names that are gathered for 11 days under just one roof. The event provides a rare opportunity for collectors to find major artworks on the market regrouped in one place and for art aficionados to enjoy what, in my view and theirs too perhaps, should one day belong to museums, but might end up in private collections far from the eyes of the public.
For Maastricht resident Harry Seegers, 63, the fair is like a walk in a museum: “I’ve been coming here ever since it started. I normally like the classical part of the fair, and this year I came to see Rembrandt’s etchings.” Seegers has never bought anything. He even stopped buying the catalogue after 5 years.
For gallery owners like Daphine Alazraki from Daphine Alazraki Gallery New York, the fair is about socializing, getting the right contacts: “I never have time to visit Maastricht during the fair interval. All I can say about it is that the restaurants are very good.”
TEFAF’s atmosphere, artworks, and flowers will be back next year on 18th – 27th March 2011.
Text and Photographs by Claudia Falutoiu
Claudia Falutoiu is a curious person, in love with nature, reality and variations, as her background confirms: BA in Management and in parallel with freelance jobs in photography and journalism in Romania. As of September 2009, she is a MA student in Arts and Heritage at Maastricht University.