The European Fine Art Fair TEFAF And Globalization
By Miguel Bermudez
TEFAF constitutes the most spectacular gathering of art on offer in the world. It takes place every year during the month of March at Maastricht in the Netherlands. The quality and uniqueness of what is exhibited is a feast to the eye for anyone interested in art. TEFAF concentrates on Old Master and Modern paintings and sculptures, antiquities, antiques, works on paper and jewels of all periods. In 2015, art exhibited at the TEFAF covered the span of 5,500 years of art. It is a display of the most rare and valuable art objects by the top dealers in the world.
The statistics of the fair are simply mind-blowing. In 2015 an estimated $5 billion dollars worth of art was on display at TEFAF. Some 75,000 collectors and art professionals attended in 2015, and 400 private jets were arrived during the ten days duration of the fair at the local airport. In the words of its new Chairman, Mr. Willem van Roijen, “The fair’s aim is to present art covering the whole spectrum of 7,000 years”. The success of this fair is grounded on its extraordinarily strict vetting procedures. Over 170 international experts in 29 specialist-vetting committees scrutinize each object to ensure the quality, authenticity and condition of everything exhibited.
A simple walk along the corridors of this beautifully decorated fair would make anyone feel the human spirit of creation and craftsmanship that endures through the ages. It humbles us and causes us to wonder by the ingeniousness, beauty and messages that transpire from art.
There are apprimately101 exhibitors in the Antiques section, 59 in Paintings and 50 in Modern Art. In addition to this, there are 17 exhibitors in the Paper department covering drawings, watercolors, prints, photographs and antiquarian books and manuscripts. Some 299 exhibitors are expected to participate in 2016. They come from 22 different countries. Most of the world’s museums send their representatives to the Fair, a total of 262 institutions were present in 2015.
The fact that the fair takes place in the beautiful small city of Maastricht adds to this event and contributes to its uniqueness. Unlike the big hubs of London and New York, where art fairs are just one more event that brings disruption to the locals. Maastricht is a city that breathes in and exudes the excitement and wonder of hosting for ten days this spectacular display. The eyes of the art world – collectors, museum representatives and institutions discover art in this small, beautiful place in the middle of Europe. This hidden gem of a city invites, celebrates and appreciates the spirit of Art. Thousands of local citizens look forward to experience the wonders of TEFAF in contrast to only a subgroup of interested audiences in big cities. The journey to Maastricht provides a sense of discovering something so monumental within the confines of a small place, where one cannot help feel the mystery of art on the streets. This is what we would call an art journey.
Yet, a challenge has been presented to the nature of TEFAF and its dealers in Old Master paintings, antiques, antiquities and other non-Modern art categories. Several factors have been coalescing that will force the organizers to respond to them pro-actively. This presents TEFAF and its dealers with an uncommon opportunity to shape the future collectors and dealers alike.
In the words of TEFAF’s Chairman in an interview with the New York Times: “Internet access has altered the ownership of knowledge. Prospective buyers can instantly check the prices realized at art auctions. In the Old Master Paintings category, the result of this availability of information is pressuring dealers to basically offer fresh to the market paintings. One of the important sources of Old Master Paintings for these dealers have been in the auction houses. Any collector can instantly find out the amount paid for a piece and determine the markup margin that a dealer is added to the piece”. This is a substantial change in the way a dealer can assemble material for their galleries. In addition to this change, dealers are acting as buying agents on behalf of collectors that want to purchase at auctions. A collector can participate in, evaluate and observe the actual moment any piece is being auctioned, instantly and from any location in the world. The physical presence of a collector at any gallery is diminishing in importance as time is improving the detailed high definition display of paintings and rare objects via the Internet.
Additionally, the fact that there is a very limited supply of Old Master Paintings changing hands at any particular time is deterring new dealers from venturing into this art category.
The Media and Modern and Contemporary Art
In no small measure the astonishing rise of Contemporary Art is a byproduct of the intense and speculative nature of the media. As more money and more collectors flock to this area of the art market, press coverage intensifies. The big auction houses have created a publicity war associated with fantastic prices commanded for these pieces. The auction houses are battling for global publicity. It is a cycle that feeds this ongoing frenzy. TEFAF has been reacting to this by including 51 exhibitors in the modern and contemporary art section. The largest sales’ values are being achieved in this category and the number of young collectors attending the fair is growing, in large measure due to this particular sector.
Some prestigious news media are categorizing the old masters as “unfashionable”, a term that completely disregards the fact that juxtaposition of the very best of each period of art history not only compliment each other in a physical space, but also bring grounding and historical meaning to a collection. This perception that old master paintings and works of art are no longer the trendy art that should be collected is what gives TEFAF and their dealers a unique opportunity to educate.
It is a fact that most collectors of old master paintings, antiquities, antiques and all other art categories that are non-modern or contemporary art, tend to be at least 50 years old. The financial wherewithal and the point in one’s life when there is time to devote to study and collect, makes entering the market at a younger age a very difficult endeavor. However, the seeds of knowledge in collecting, the passion about learning and the curiosity of observing and attending fairs such as TEFAF is certainly found early on.
While instant information via the Internet can be disruptive it provides an immense opportunity to educate, stimulate and whet the appetite for these “old” art categories. Future collectors can begin learning earlier and faster than has ever been possible. Potential collectors can investigate, look at pieces and chose an area of interest easier and much faster than ever before. It took years and many trips and visits to galleries and museums for pre-internet collectors to assemble the knowledge and develop true passions for art. This has now changed for the benefit of those that can do so remotely.
Traveling to the fairs is also more attainable than it was before. The young can attend TEFAF without breaking the bank. It is a feast for the eyes after all, and an opportunity to admire the very best of art.
A DISTINCT OPPORTUNITY
It could well be that the financial gains and stratospheric prices achieved by Contemporary and Modern Art at the big auction houses, could substantially reduce their interest in “old” art. If this proves to be true, the dealing of “old” art will revert back to the dealerships. This would mean availability, knowledge and larger exhibitions through galleries and art fairs.
TEFAF and its exhibitors could embrace these challenges, and not only shape and maintain the fair’s viability but grow its popularity worldwide. Education provides is the key to address this. Dealers must continue to advise, nourish and cater to their existing clients, but they should also motivate, share and welcome the untapped enthusiasm that exists among new and future collectors. By creating compelling human stories on each piece of art, it becomes alive and real. It suddenly touches history and the fascinating journey of the artist, the historical moment, the meaning behind it and the stories of those that have enjoyed the piece through the years.
Conferences during and after TEFAF where the public could participate via the Internet could potentially grow the amount of tangible interest for this art category. To those far away and unable to attend the fair, it could be an important opportunity to hear and learn from the most knowledgeable practitioners, and to admire and understand the best pieces. Webcasting these educational events and maintaining momentum throughout the year would bring an enormous awareness of the fair, the dealers and the vast and extraordinary world of art to all of those searching for knowledge.
There are many more ways to promote, disseminate knowledge, and welcome new and future collectors. Webcast educational conferences could be used globally for lectures at universities, art institutions and the public at large. Technology is also bringing to the field of Fine Arts the tools to discover new elements and correct errors that were impossible to detect in the past. Each object can be viewed from so many new perspectives through technological advances, and these new discoveries open new fields of interests for all of us.
TEFAF Highlights Numbers from TEFAF.com
The New York Times, March 12, 2015. Tefaf Chairman on Art Fairs’ Endeavor to Stay at the Top. Interview of Willem van Roijen, chairman of the executive committee of Tefaf by Nazanin Lankarani.