TEFAF Maastricht Lures Collectors with Contemporary Art in a Sydney Picasso-curated Show

TEFAF and Art Basel Hong Kong go head to head.

"Night Fishing" at TEFAF2015 Photo: Loraine Bodewes

TEFAF, the grande dame of art fairs, opened its doors in Maastricht yesterday, welcoming throngs of well-heeled collectors. The mood on the floor was as cheery as the extravagant tulip displays that have become something of a TEFAF signature. (To gain some perspective about the mood, see World Art Market Passes €51 Billion Says 2015 TEFAF Art Market Report and 40 Percent of World Gallery Art Sales Made at Fairs and Other Key Findings in the TEFAF Art Market Report 2015.)

Until March 22, over 270 dealers are presenting their wares, running the gamut from antiquities to modern painting, via jewelry, furniture, and tribal art. TEFAF is a very grown-up affair. Many of the people who come to Maastricht have been coming for years. Most museum groups have made it a must on their fair dairy, whereby institutional curators are increasingly finding themselves in the role of art advisers.

“We take collectors here and we give them advice on what to acquire for themselves,” the Rijksmuseum’s Director of Collections Taco Dibbits told artnet News, “and maybe one day we will see these paintings or objects in the museum.”

Buyers here aren’t just collectors, they are true connoisseurs, and the quality on display reflects the high level expected by this demanding crowd.

Market Shifts towards Modern Art

Among the highlights this year are the extraordinary Liesborn Gospels, a book of prayers dating back to the 10th century presented by Les Enluminures ($6.5 million). At the booth of Manheim textile dealer Franz Bausback, there’s a South German antique carpet collection featuring rare examples of oriental rugs from the 15th to the 17th century and collectively priced at €5 million ($5.3 million). The Maas Gallery came with a demure Devout Childhood of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary by the Pre-Raphaelite Charles Allston Collins, which is going for €2.5 million.

Crowning the lot is Vincent Van Gogh’s landscape watercolor Le Moulin d’Alphonse Daudet à Fontvielle (1888), which comes with the healthy price tag of €10 million ($10.6 million) at the booth of London’s Dickinson, right by the fair’s grand entrance (see $10 Million Van Gogh Drawing To Be Unveiled at TEFAF Maastricht for the First Time in 100 Years; and for news about the New York branch of Dickinson, see Dickinson Gallery Wows with French Artist Claude Viallat.) Although more modest than the Moulin de la Galette (1887) oil painting the gallery brought last year, it is bound to provoke excitement, having not been seen on the market for a century (see TEFAF 2014: Sales Swift, Confidence High at the Mother of All Art Fairs).

The last example is indicative of a general trend. Although TEFAF is best known for its Old Masters dealers, the biggest money is actually in the modern market. And contemporary art might soon follow—or so the organizers hope.

This is very much in tune with the global art market as a whole. Gauguin recently commanded the highest price ever paid for an artwork when it was snapped up by Qatar Museums for $300 million (see Paul Gauguin Painting Sells for Record $300 Million to Qatar Museums in Private Sale). And, according to Dr Clare McAndrews’s just-released TEFAF Art Market Report, the modern and contemporary market represents almost half (48 percent) of the global fine art auction market (see Clare McAndrew Explains How She Prepares the TEFAF Art Market Report).

“Night Fishing” Gathers Contemporary Giants

Clearly TEFAF won’t be left out of the party. And with a modern section that has been going strong since 1991, it has now set its eyes the contemporary crew. In this edition, the fair launched a new section-cum-exhibition curated by Sydney Picasso. Night Fishing gathers eight artists: Georg Baselitz, presented by Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac; Tony Cragg (Buchmann Galerie), Cristina Iglesias (Galeria Elba Benitez), Wolfgang Laib (Konrad Fischer), Nam June Paik (Galerie Hans Mayer), Markus Raetz (Farideh Cadot Associés), Mark Manders (Zeno X Gallery), and Richard Deacon (Galerie Thomas Schulte).

“It’s about the present, TEFAF should be and is about the present,” Picasso told artnet News.

She picked the artists−the list is meant to lure collectors like fishermen’s lamps attract fish at night, hence the section’s title−and the pieces were chosen in conversation with the dealers, none of whom had exhibited at the fair before. The result is more than convincing. Within one fairly modest section of the fair, Picasso has managed to curate a show of large, in some instances monumental, pieces that wouldn’t feel out of place in a museum. Somehow, the little white desks protruding from the walls hardly disrupt the experience. Institutional clients take note.

"Night Fishing" at TEFAF2015 Photo: Loraine Bodewes

“Night Fishing” at TEFAF 2015
Photo: Loraine Bodewes

Laib’s brass ships sailing in a sea of rice above small wax and granite houses, themselves surrounded by rice fields, is a particular standout. It elegantly converses with Richard Deacon’s bundle of turned wood, Remember II (2012). New-media pioneer Paik’s Diamond Sat (1998) and Venus (1990) nod to the electronic onslaught that he so presciently anticipated, while clay busts by Manders−who represented the Netherlands at the last Venice Biennale−look back, as if turning to the antiques presented only a few aisles away.

“The strength of Maastricht is the continuous nature of what’s here,” James Roundell, founding director of Dickinson and chairman of TEFAF’s modern committee told artnet News. “We shouldn’t seek to be a cutting-edge contemporary fair to rival Frieze or Art Basel but we should show the continuation of art.”

It isn’t the first time that the fair has tried to win over contemporary dealers, and several major galleries dipped their toes in TEFAF at one stage or another: the now-defunct Haunch of Venison in 2008, Hauser & Wirth in 2009, even Gagosian in 2013. They didn’t come back.

TEFAF Dates Clash with Art Basel Hong Kong

This year, the fair has had to work extra hard as Art Basel Hong Kong’s new dates clash with Maastricht (see Five Theories on Why Art Basel in Hong Kong Is Moving to March Next Year). While it’s obvious why the mega fair might want to allow more time between its Chinese and Swiss editions, the decision to stage Hong Kong at the same time as Maastricht surprised many in the industry.

“They said they were not aware that TEFAF was precisely on this date, but we find that hard to believe,” said Roundell, wryly.

"Night Fishing" at TEFAF 2015 Photo: Loraine Bodewes

“Night Fishing” at TEFAF 2015
Photo: Loraine Bodewes

It is hard to know whether Art Basel was so confident its collector base didn’t overlap with TEFAF’s—and that, should they have exhibitors in common, those would favor the alluring Chinese market—that it judged the Maastricht fair irrelevant, or whether that was a calculated move to stifle the competition.

In any case, the change of date left several dealers with an impossible fair calendar. Emmanuel Perrotin, who, as Picasso said, wanted to take part in Night Fishing, had to renounce for lack of personnel. Whether or not this also put off Lisson Gallery (see London’s Lisson Gallery Is Coming to New York), Tony Cragg’s main dealer, hasn’t been confirmed–but it’s not implausible.

While Roundell assured artnet News that a few dealers had chosen Maastricht over Hong Kong, a handful of troupers–Rossi & Rossi, Marlborough Fine Art, Ben Brown among them–are doing both.

“We’re all trying to manage somehow, because it’s really impossible to be at the two openings,” said Fabio Rossi, whose offering ranges from an impressive gilded Vajradhara figure (primordial Buddha) to collages by the contemporary Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol. “So I chose to be here and my cousin is in Hong Kong.”

Next year should be easier for dealers as the two giant fairs won’t clash. But only time will tell if TEFAF’s latest attempt to carve out a niche in the contemporary world is a winning ticket.


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