Filed under: Art
Is it all about money or art? The answer is probably both but if you're in the Art 101 category, you can catapult up to PhD level at The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
TEFAF is the most sophisticated, highly vetted, and elegant art fair anywhere. All true, but it is also a place where the minute the doors swing open to VIP guests, there's a stampede to the jewelry booths where for the most part glitz not glamour dominates.
Collectors, museum curators often accompanied by their trustees, and general connoisseurs attend to browse, to see and be seen, and to bring home treasures. This year, some 73,000 visitors attended. Most are Dutch, followed by Germans and Belgians, English, French, Italians, Americans and an impressively growing numbers of Russians and Chinese. Among a handful of Arab sheiks, most prominent this year was Sheikh Saud al-Thani, the art-hungry collector who is a cousin of the ruling Emir of Qatar. He surely arrived on one of the 154 private jets that landed on the tarmac of the tiny Maastricht-Aachen airport.
At the blue chip opening one of the first pieces to be snapped up was by a Russian collector: a billowing tapestry made of beaten red and gold bottle tops by the Ganaian artist El Anatsui. The price was $965,532. You can see his aesthetically beautiful "Earth and Heaven" sculpture installed in the African art galleries at the Met. In another gallery in the modern section, a well-heeled collector bought Spanish artist Joan Miro's sculpture, "Oiseau Lunaire," or moon bird, a wooden surreal, bird-like figure for $5 million. A bronze version of a moon bird by Miro is in the Nasher Sculptural Center in Dallas. That same day, March 18, Russian TV didn't waste a minute filming at the booth of Van Gelder Indian Jewelry which showcased some fabulous South Sea pearls and antique jewelry.
Tickets to the private first day are distributed to dealers who then invite their most important clients. The next day, all are welcome at a tab of €50 or about $75.
Now if you don't fit into the curator or collector category, what would draw you to TEFAF? Without a doubt, it is a remarkable learning experience for anyone who loves art. As Michelin says, it's worth the voyage, merely to see some 5,000 years of impeccable art, exquisitely presented. It could be that some TEFAF director handed down guidelines to the presenting dealers insisting that they treat every inquiry with respect. You won't find any condescending brush offs here.
One item that drew large crowds was a fragment of an Egyptian water clock depicting Alexander the Great from about 332 BC at Belgium's Harmakhis Galerie. Old Dutch masters, especially a portrait by Rembrandt, "Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo" from 1658 and Renoir's "Woman Picking Flowers," depicting Camille Monet in a field of flowers also gained a lot of attention. A major attraction was a Helmut Newton solo exhibition of 40 photos from London's Hamiltons Gallery. Other standouts were Joana Vasconselos sensual feminine crocheted canvases at Haunch of Venison, Secessionist furniture at Kolomon Moser, beautiful Chinese textiles from Jacqueline Simcox in London. Only a BMW art car designed by Jeff Koons looked as if it had driven in by mistake.
TEFAF, first organized in 1975, invites 260 dealers from 16 countries all of whom undergo tremendous scrutiny to assure the quality, condition, and authenticity of their objects. About 100 dealers apparently are on a waiting list hoping to make it another year. Think of it as an art melting pot presented in an aura of gentility. It's the most promising, sophisticated, and enjoyable fair for specialists and the general public.