"People Are Confident and They Are Buying": A Treasure-Laden TEFAF Gets Off to An Upbeat Start

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands visits TEFAF Maastricht 2012
(Photo © Harry Heuts)

MAASTRICHT — The European Fine Art Fair, better known as TEFAF, opened just hours ago and it’s already off to a good start. Strikingly designed by Tom Postma, who also makes Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach look good, the 25-year-old art fair has long been considered the top of the art-world heap. Mixing everything from tribal art and Old Master paintings and antiquities to modern and contemporary art, photography, and design, the fair is a virtual delight for connoisseur collectors from Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, and the UK, as well as the world over.

“I’m impressed with how civilized and focused the collectors are here,” said Whitney Museum of American Art director Adam Weinberg, who was here on his first visit and making the rounds with a group of the museum’s supporters, including Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy. “There’s a physically different pace to the fair,” he added. “People are moving slowly, speaking in more hushed tones, and really looking at the objects. It’s very refreshing — especially after being at other fairs, where you feel like you’re seeing everything from a bus window.”

While there has been some anxiety from dealers about this year's fair, given the major investment involved to participate and the ongoing financial turmoil within the European community, the overall mood is positive. “The art market continues to be strong,” said Ben Brown of London-based Ben Brown Fine Arts. “We’ve had a good start to the year. There are new buyers that are pushing the market up and, therefore, the old buyers realize that they have to pay up, despite what’s going on in the real world.”

Some early sales re-enforce Brown’s positive attitude. Daniel Blau, who is featuring 25 early, unpublished Andy Warhol drawings from a cache of 200 works that he got from the Warhol estate, was upbeat. “The fair started out well,” said Blau. “We sold several drawings, priced between €20,000 and €60,000 each, before the fair had even opened to the public. People are confident and they are buying.”

Georg Laue, of Munich’s Kunstkammer Georg Laue — perennially one of the most intriguing booths at the fair — added to the upbeat vibe when stating that he had sold 10 pieces priced between €5,000 and €50,000 in the first two hours. Exhibiting a madcap array of intricate skulls, inlaid boxes, hourglasses, carved wood animals, ivory figures, and much more in a dynamic show titled “Exotica,” Laue is the ultimate explorer of the “Cabinet of Curiosity” concept at which TEFAF always seems to excell.

Taking that sophisticated but often heavy-handed idea to new heights, Belgium’s Axel Vervoordt, who has been celebrated for his jaw-dropping displays of objects from all cultures and ages at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice during the last two Biennales, turns his diverse inventory into a poetic mix, where one thing links to the next. Explaining his philosophy for building a show, Vervoordt said, “It starts with the major pieces you want to expose. What’s the spirit of those pieces? Around that, I think architecturally, but the art is always the main thing. I like to expose multiple elements to teach people whatever they want to learn and to share the wonderful sense of living with art. It’s not a matter of mixing; it’s more about creating harmony. It has nothing to do with aesthetics; it’s about a conversation between the pieces. We can all be builders of a new society.”

With booths overflowing with treasures including Klimt’s penciled views of contorted bodies, Picasso’s lively late paintings, and important early drawings, Fontana’s sublimely punctured and sliced canvases, Richter’s colorfully smeared abstractions, and Avedon and Penn’s photographic takes on celebrity and sensuality,  the gems that money can buy become the dreams that we can freely use to build our own vision of a new society by simply strolling down the TEFAF aisles, with an eye for endless enchantment.

To see selections from TEFAF 2012 click on the slide show.