Dealers Are Blasting TEFAF for Not Cancelling Its Maastricht Fair Now That Dozens of Attendees Have Contracted Coronavirus

The fair closed early, but some say that wasn't enough.

The entrance to the 2020 edition of TEFAF in Maastricht. Courtesy TEFAF.

Just over two weeks ago, organizers of the the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, the Netherlands, decided to close four days early after it was reported that a dealer from Italy had tested positive for coronavirus.

Now, at least 25 positive cases of coronavirus have emerged among exhibitors and visitors to the fair, according to a report in the Art Newspaper. And organizers are coming under fire for not having canceled the event altogether.

“It was irresponsible of TEFAF to open the fair,” Boedy Lilian of the Amsterdam and Geneva-based gallery Salomon Lilian, told the Art Newspaper. Lilian tested positive for the virus alongside two members of his staff, one of whom he says is “very badly” ill.

Asked whether it would have acted differently in hindsight, a representative for TEFAF told Artnet News: “We are all truly facing a unique situation given the global coronavirus pandemic and are together facing a new world. The world has changed dramatically from when we opened the fair in Maastricht until today and it continues to do so. We had no crystal ball to anticipate the world we are facing today. Based on the facts and the health advice we had, we made decisions solely based on the health advice given by the authorities every day.”

The fair attracted some 28,500 visitors during its abbreviated seven-day run. Between 23 and 35 exhibitors and visitors may have contracted the virus at the event, according to the Art Newspaper. Some have since been hospitalized, several in intensive care, but the total number of those affected is likely to be much higher.

“As the situation is ever-evolving we are hearing about more cases of people who have been sick or are currently feeling sick. We hear about confirmed cases, people with symptoms, people who are recovering well and unfortunately also cases who have been or are in intensive care,” the TEFAF representative said. “At this point we at TEFAF cannot monitor numbers reliably, nor can we confirm when and where members within our community have been in touch with the coronavirus.”

Not everyone is critical of TEFAF’s decisions, however. “The situation was quite different a couple of days before the fair,” Hugh Gibson, owner of London’s Thomas Gibson Fine Art, told Artnet News. Three galleries chose to withdraw prior to the opening, he noted, adding that “if exhibitors had serious concerns about the safety of the fair they could have just not turned up. It is of course unfortunate how the virus has spread and how infectious it has proven to be but for my part I do not hold TEFAF responsible. I am sure if the organizer knew then what we know now, they would have cancelled.” (Three out of the 285 exhibitors dropped out of the fair in the days leading up to the March 5 VIP preview day.)

The TEFAF representative said that news of the virus spreading at the fair “worries and saddens” us, but that it is “unfair” to blame the fair for its spread. “There were no cases in the Netherlands when we started the fair,” the representative said. “A vast majority of our dealer community was at the start of the fair expressing their gratitude.”

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