Since the dust has settled from the TEFAF Maastricht extravaganza and TEFAF New York is shortly to open I thought it worth writing a few thoughts down on the state of the show in light of the recent clear-out of exhibitors and the fundamental shift of the fair to even higher echelons of value and, supposedly, quality.
With 25 plus galleries being ousted from the 2018 fair the significant buzz at TEFAF was whether the new galleries were going to show real contemporary quality or simply pander to the expectations of the crowd with consigned Impressionists and early 20thcentury kit. The answer was overwhelming insofar as 90% of the new galleries looked fantastic. Spruth Magers, Simon Lee and Pace were very welcome additions. Fergus Macaffrey’s gallery included the wonderful Barry X Ball’s piece Hermaphrodite (on loan from the artist) on their stand which attracted the biggest gazes of the fair. The work was milled by a robot and finished by hand. An intriguing concept in the age of AI. (see illustrated)
In the Old Masters section there were three notable highlights. Charles Beddington’s Bernardo Bellotto (c.1721-1780) painting was a masterpiece in every sense and shows the ingenuity of the artist at around 17 years of age! The gold-ground by Paolo Veneziano (14thc.) with Haboldt was another sensation and so sympathetic in its depiction of the Madonna and Child. Yet my favourite work was the Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) with Lowell Libson. The undiscovered ‘Two boys with a Bladder’ was outstanding. Indeed, the luminosity of the bladder surface in gold leaf was simply astonishing. The Wright was sold immediately to a private collector for c. 3m Euros.
As ever the Impressionist & Modern section was very solid and I felt that prices being asked and being achieved were high. Dickinson sold their masterpiece by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) on the first evening – a reclining nude painted in 1903 (before the artist’s arthritis) which was exciting to see the piece amongst two other crackers: a Kees Van Dongen (1877-1968) Fauve Nude and a Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904) Bathing scene. The hang was very good: how far painting has travelled from the silken-skinned bathers of Gerome to the harsh colours and courageous impasto of Van Dongen. Hopkins exhibited a superb stand with a small Footballeurs by Nicolas de Stael (1914-1955) and a top, top Serge Poliakoff (1900-1969) (albeit at 1.2m Euros!). Applicat Prazan was as good as ever with his brand of 1950s European – he sold a large and very strong horizontal Andre Lanskoy (1902-1976) within moments.Overall the fair was stronger than ’18 and though I missed many friends that have had to resubmit an application for 2020 I think the fair had a new freshness to its exhibits. Many of the Old Master dealers had been told to pull their socks up by all accounts… and they did. The other key was the vetting which is now carried out by Academics and not those in the trade. I was unsure as to whether this would be feasible, but it seems to work for now. Remember to always use an advisor when acquiring art at art fairs as the pitfalls are numerous, the marketing is magnetic and over-paying is not uncommon at all.