Trying to quantify the bounty and breadth of the European Fine Art Fair, commonly known as TEFAF, brings to mind the song “Tschaikowsky (and other Russians)”, a pitter-patter bullet-fast song by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill, first performed by Danny Kaye in the 1941 musical Lady in the Dark. In it, Kaye rattles off a rhyming list of 50 Russian composers’ names (although a few are actually Polish and some Russian-American with their names made more “Slavic” for effect). In each of his performances, Kaye tried to beat his previous speed record. In that same vein, following are fun facts and figures for TEFAF, which serve as a lightning preamble for what is generally recognized as the world’s best art and antiques fair.
Number of bluest of blue-chip dealers, 261 from 18 countries; number of objects for sale, over 30,000 cumulatively valued at over $1.5 billion; number of visitors, over 70,000; price per ticket, €55; number of times the fair’s signature flower displays are replaced during the 10-day fair, three; number of white Avalanche roses, multicolored French tulips, Dutch tulips and pink magnolia or cherry blossoms displayed during the fair—33,000, 41,500, 24,000 and 4,500 respectively; approximate number of private planes that land at the local Maastricht-Aachen airport during the fair—more than fly to the Super Bowl (last year it was 154), approximate number of champagne and wine bottles served at the nine-hour preview—2,000 and 3,800.
TEFAF, which closes today after a ten-day run (eleven counting the preview), is held annually in the picturesque river town of Maastricht in southern Holland. It seems an odd choice of location for many Americans, for whom it’s not directly accessible: Maastricht is a two-and-a-half-hour train trip, with a change of trains, or two-hour car ride from Amsterdam, or an hour-and-fifteen express train trip from Brussels. But a cursory look at a map shows the logic of the locale. The city, famous both for the fair and for the Maastricht Treaty (formally the Treaty on European Union, which was signed in 1992 and initiated the euro single-European currency), sits in a sweet swathe of cash and convertibles—a hundred-mile radius encompasses one of the highest concentrations of per capita wealth on the Continent.
TEFAF began in 1988 as an amalgam of two separate fairs, one for Old Masters paintings and one for antiques, which had been running since the mid-1970s. Its concept—at the time revolutionary—was that collectors would like to compare objects from different disciplines, periods, genres and styles under one roof. It also set a new (and the current) standard for stringent vetting so that buyers, be they collectors and connoisseurs or spur-of-the-moment acquisitors, could purchase with confidence.
This edition marked the fair’s 25th anniversary, its silver jubilee. In addition to its encyclopedic offerings—encompassing, as the fair’s boosters proudly point out, 7,000 years of decorative arts, with examples of metalwork from ancient China and carving from ancient Egypt, India and the Fertile Crescent, to paintings that range from Medieval to Old Masters to still-tacky-to-the-touch contemporary—the fair managed to gild an already gilded lily in several ways. First, TEFAF was presented with its own tulip, the TEFAF Tulip (pictured), by Ten Kate Flowers & Decorations, which has worked with the fair since its inception. The day before the preview, the fair was also visited by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who, escorted by TEFAF Board of Trustees Chairman Willem, Baron van Dedem, made a (queen) beeline for Gregg Baker Asian Art, the London gallery focusing on antique paper screens with the largest stock in Europe, and where the queen was tempted by the 17th-century Edo-period two-folded paper screen (pictured below in slide show) that, according to stand personnel, she had seen in the fair’s catalog.
Finally, while dealers have been known to hold their most prized stock for up to a year in order to stage a TEFAF debut, almost every stand seemed to hold something exceptionally exceptional (make that exceptional to the third power). Examples included: Reclining Figure; Curved, an enormous (1,324 pounds) unique black marble sculpture by Henry Moore, offered by Montreal-based Landau Fine Art for approximately $35 million (pictured), making it the fair’s most expensive object (it was unsold by the fair’s final day) as well as a group of five large oils by Le Corbusier, better known for his seminal work in modern architecture, priced between $2.8-5.5 million; (one is pictured in slide show); The Crucifixion, by Peter Paul Rubens, a particularly vigorous and athletic depiction that was recently proved to be entirely in Rubens’ own hand, and sold by Bernheimer Fine Old Masters to an American couple (the asking price was €3.5 million, and it’s pictured in the slide show); Andy Warhol’s 1975 silkscreen drag queen from his “Ladies and Gentlemen” series, sold to Calvin Klein (whose picture can be seen in the slideshow at bottom) for between $2.2-.2.5 million by New York’s Van de Weghe Fine Art (Munich gallery Daniel Blau showed a cache of unpublished, early Warhol drawings, priced between €20,000-60,000, which sold like proverbial hotcakes).
Also on view was a Portrait of Olga Khokhlova (pictured at top), an eye-popper by Picasso, painted 1917 in his classical period, offered by Geneva’s Galerie Krugier & Cie, and on par with any of the Picassos shown at the Getty Villa’s exhibition “Modern Antiquity” last fall (which juxtposed modern avant-garde and antique); A Young Lady Playing the Virginal by 17th-century Dutch artist Gerrit Dou at London’s Johnny van Haeften for approximately
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