TEFAF 2019: The talking points

The influence of its new international iteration in New York and the demands of collectors mean that the venerable Maastricht art fair is inviting and embracing change. Malcolm Cossons looks at the key developments at this year’s edition

The New York factor

TEFAF returns to Maastricht from 16–24 March for its 32nd edition, and this year the grande dame is reinvigorated. Of the nearly 280 exhibitors at the fair, 38 are appearing for the first time and span fine art and furniture to jewellery. Thirteen feature in the modern section.

Although the total number of stands remains roughly the same, changes to the selection procedure have allowed new exhibitors, including Pace Gallery, Galerie Gmurzynska, Simon Lee Gallery, Sprüth Magers and Almine Rech, to join. Many are attracted to Maastricht as a result of TEFAF’s bi-annual presence in New York, which began in May 2017.

‘It’s been positive,’ explains Christophe van de Weghe, chairman of TEFAF Modern, of the impact of expansion on both galleries and collectors. ‘Visitors to the fair that have never travelled to Maastricht come to TEFAF New York and they see how gorgeous the fair is… They really love the concept of the fair in that the art is mixed, and they then want to visit the mothership, which is Maastricht. This is why there is now a lot more interest in TEFAF Maastricht; it’s definitely driven new galleries to attend.’

Fresh ideas from the younger generation of exhibitors

Additional first time exhibitors come from the Showcase section, a regular part of the fair that allows emerging galleries to participate and gives collectors the opportunity to discover them.

Brussels-based Martin Doustar, whose gallery offers ancient and tribal works of art, is convinced of the benefits. ‘The art market evolves all the time, and increasingly rapidly,’ he says. ‘The rules are changing and taste is changing. I believe the younger generation of exhibitors can adapt faster, and bring an innovative approach to the world of art and antiquities.’

Doustar will be displaying works including a Colombian Quimbaya gold maskette and a Caucasian bronze belt buckle with the entire stand designed as a ‘stone temple’. This reflects a development at other fairs in recent years, where immersive displays are increasingly creating a sense of theatre.

Technological innovation in the unlikeliest of settings

Rare book dealer Daniel Crouch will use Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets to allow visitors to explore a 1554 view of Amsterdam and a 1739 plan of Paris. ‘They both portray bird’s-eye views of the cities in perspective cavalière,’ Crouch explains, ‘whereby two buildings of the same size are represented by two drawings of the same size, whether the buildings are close or distant. This makes for an “even” feel to the VR experience.’

The revised floorplan

Allowing collectors to see works in a different light is one of the factors behind revising TEFAF’s floor plan this year. The immediate result sees the integration of the design and tribal art sections.

‘We have seen a trend towards cross-collecting in multiple disciplines,’ says CEO Patrick van Maris of the change. ‘In the past, collectors were more static, focusing on a specialism, or a certain period. Nowadays they are mixing styles with the tendency to strive for the best pieces.’

Design dealer François Laffanour, who will show work by Brazilian designer Jose Zanine Caldas and Charlotte Perriand among others, believes the wide variety of exhibitors and collectors in attendance is the main attribute of TEFAF Maastricht. ‘Through this diversity you can meet new collectors who you would never meet in a design-only fair,’ he says.

Tribal-art dealer Didier Claes, who will be showing a magnificent Songye Kifwebe mask, agrees: ‘The new placement makes more sense to us. The design and contemporary art collectors are possible targets to us and I think these changes have been a long time timing. This mask is a true exception in this category and reminds us of modern and contemporary art.’

The new and improved vetting procedure

A longstanding commitment to ensure the finest works appear in Maastricht, combined with TEFAF’s international expansion, has led the fair to revise its vetting procedure. Academics, curators, conservators, conservation scientists and independent scholars will now be used at the expense of those experts with commercial interests.

‘As our organisation has grown as a global structure, it made sense for use to look at these procedures and make sure they were standardised,’ says Nanne Dekking, Chairman of the TEFAF Board of Trustees.

‘It is now TEFAF’s global policy to remove commercial interest from the vetting procedures… For me, provenance and authenticity have always been important for the international art world; what we are seeing now is a growth in demand for proof of such highly valued concepts. Collectors and buyers are savvy and are justified in interrogating the provenance and authenticity of a work of art.’

The significance of both can be seen in the careful reassessment of one of the highlights shown by picture dealer Robilant + Voena. Still Life of Fruit with Three Figures of Children (Allegory of Autumn) was previously ascribed to the 17th-century Italian school, but the gallery, working with leading scholar of Caravaggesque paintings Cristina Terzaghi, have reattributed it to Bartolomeo Cavarozzi (1587-1625).

The value of establishing this level of authenticity has always been of ‘great importance’, maintains Director Benedict Tomlinson. ‘The reputation of a dealer can be swiftly curtailed should there be any question as to the veracity of the authenticity. With the advance in technologies for the decoding and analysing of artworks there will be both greater demand for watertight authentication as well as the ability to provide just that.’