No art fair anywhere is ever quite so spectacular as TEFAF Maastricht, richly loaded with the masterpieces of human history, with the craftsmanship that defines man’s lust for beauty — from the Cycladic idols and Egyptian burial figures to the emerald necklaces and Lalique enameled brooches, from the 17th century silver miniatures set into a dollhouse amongst Chinese porcelain and crystal at John Endlich, to the Matisse and Chagall gouaches, the portraits by Picasso, the massive Medieval marbles. Some are cute and lighthearted, like a Julian Opie view of sunflowers in a field at Galerie Trigano’s flower-themed booth. Others are grave and powerful, Renaissance pietas and the fragments of an African tribal chief’s headdress and armor. But they are the best there is, or among the best there is, anywhere to be found, and they are all here, amidst the splendor of tulips and pale pink roses, amongst whispers and photographs and the comparing of details.
This year, on the first and most important day, the aisles and the stands stood nearly empty. Or that is, anyway, far emptier than in years past – the exception being the poorly-planned, strategic errors of cocktail parties held in the booths of corporate sponsors like AXA and AON and ING. Even the best art can little tempt in the face of free food and wine and party bags to take home.
And so, short tempers and long faces among any number of dealers, usually cheerful and forthcoming on a day like this.
And the thing is, from journalists to collectors and even a dealer or two, everyone had the same explanation, one explicitly expressed to me by American friends when I’d asked them last month if they were coming back to Maastricht: “Why?” they all said. “TEFAF is coming to New York.” And from British journalists to American private dealers, the verdict was the same: TEFAF New York was destroying TEFAF the original.
And I’m not sure it can recover.
Even long-time standards aren’t back this year, like Otto Naumann and Daniel Blau. And were TEFAF officers to decide that indeed, New York had been a mistake, how to end it? To stop would suggest that it had failed: bad PR. To continue would put Maastricht more at risk. How much longer will they “wait and see” how it plays out?
Still, the offerings both inspire and enchant, with some of the best works on display that I’ve seen, even at TEFAF, in several seasons. It’s certainly a fair worth making the trip for — now and always.
Here, some of the treasures among them all.
all photos copyright Peter Madden, exclusive John Endlich doll house
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