TEFAF Maastricht 2023 The Connoisseurs’ Art Fair – Alexandre Daletchine

Röbbig Gallery (Munich) booth.

Years ago, when I first went to TEFAF in Maastricht, the seminal global art fair, I was overwhelmed. For the expert eye and the neophytes visiting TEFAF is always an amazing experience because of the sheer quality of the artefacts. It is a journey across cultures through 7000 years of human creation. Yearly, I adjust my travels to be able to attend this event for which 270 exhibitors from 20 countries keep their most exclusive items, all of which are carefully inspected by a vetting committee of curators for authenticity, provenance and quality. Hence, elite collectors and museum directors, with their patrons from around the world, gather at this high-class art trading event where they come to shop to implement their collections.

Speaking of museums, I first rushed to the Bonnefanten museum, 5 minute drive from the fair, which was staging a fabulous auto portrait by Rembrandt The Standard Bearer (1636) on loan from the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam). The masterpiece was recently acquired from the collection of Elie de Rothschild for 175 million € and is a perfect example of the master’s virtuosity. Back to the fair, visitors could admire a beautiful portrait also from the 17th century by Frans Hals at Adam Williams Gallery (New York) priced at 6,5 million €. Artworks by the contemporary Belgian artist Berlinde de Bruyckere were exhibited in both the Bonnefanten and the fair presented by the uber-international Galleria Continua.

6.Khinde Wiley, Tarek Ali Ellis and Michael Morgan, oil on linen, 305x216cm, 2023 1. Franz Hals, Portrait of Johan Claesz Loo (1577-1660), Oil on canvas, 84x66cm, 1650
Left: Khinde Wiley, Tarek Ali Ellis and Michael Morgan, 2023 Right 1. Franz Hals, Portrait of Johan Claesz Loo (1577-1660), 1650

I drove several times between Brussels and Maastricht. The days of the opening are great for meeting people from around the world. You hear people chatting in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, etc. On other days the atmosphere is quieter, and I enjoyed spending days walking around with clients I advise and taking more time to discuss with the dealers.

The number of modern and contemporary galleries is increasing each year. The darlings of the art market, such as Edward Ruscha, Lucio Fontana, Christo, Gunther Ucker, Alexander Calder and Anish Kapoor, were present in several places – the latter being displayed by Lisson, Axel Vervoordt and Mennour. For his first time at TEFAF, Mennour asked Daniel Buren to design a whole installation. What I love is that many booths are finely curated in order to create an immersive experience. Some are even entirely built in by interior designers in order to boost their visibility. This is the case for Christophe de Quénetain (London), Burzio (London), Kugel (Paris) and Röbbig (Munich), just to name a few.

Left: Johann Heinrich Köhler (1669-1736), The Baden Kife-Grinder, gold, enamel, ruby, diamonds, glass, baroque pearl, ivory, circa 1710-1720. Right: Melotti, La Creazione del Mondo, Brass, 1978.
Left: Johann Heinrich Köhler (1669-1736), The Baden Kife-Grinder, gold, enamel, ruby, diamonds, glass, baroque pearl, ivory, circa 1710-1720. Right: Melotti, La Creazione del Mondo, Brass, 1978.

While today’s contemporary art market is dominated by figurative and brightly-coloured paintings, TEFAF showcased a strong interest in minimal and abstract art. Visitors could purchase artworks by Gerhard Richter, Joseph Albers, Pierre Soulages, Enrico Castellani, Hans Hartung, Sol Lewitt, Bridget Riley, and Georges Mathieu at several booths. Jannis Kounellis had major works presented by Cardi (Milan, London) and on a joint booth curated by David Levy & Sprovieri. Among my favourite artworks, I could name a meditative yet, uncomfortable painting by Leiko Ikemura proposed for 90.000$ at Fergus McCaffrey (New York, Tokyo, StBarth); an exquisite portrait by Francis Picabia for which Bailly Gallery (Geneva, Paris) was asking 520.000 €; a gorgeous sculpture by Fausto Melotti priced at 290.000€ at Sprovieri (London) and a dazzling 18th-century figurine of a Knife-Grinder by Johann Heinrich Köhler priced at 1,6 million € at Kugel (Paris). I could not get my eyes of that piece made of gold, diamonds, rubies, pearls and ivory. It could have gone to the Metropolitan Museum, but international regulations do not allow the import containing African elephant ivory to the USA.

Previously secluded on the second floor, this year’s edition saw the galleries specialized in drawing evenly distributed all around the fair. Their sturdy presence is an indication of the deep interest in collectors’ views of the medium – not only the fact that drawings are cheaper than paintings or other pieces but also because the collectors feel closer to the artists’ touch through their delicate executions. In the meantime, most galleries seem to keep their favourite spots to signify their presence at the fair. A major change, though, saw Dickinson (London) being pushed further from the main crossroad at the entrance now occupied by White Cube (London, Hong Kong, New York, Paris, W. Palm Beach), which allowed them to secure the sale of more than 10 artworks on the first opening day.

As usual, sales were strong this year. Numerous transactions were held with museums for which prices were undisclosed. As for some disclosed deals: Steinitz Gallery (Paris) has found a buyer for an exceptional Louis XVI desk by Jean-Francois Leleu for north 1,5 million €; Stuart Lochhead (London) specialized in sculpture sold the 16th century Lion Devouring a Deer by Barthélemy Prieur for a similar amount while Mazzoleni (Turin, London) quickly sold a major painting by Salvo from 1988 for 380.000€ The recent growing interest in the Italian painter, according to some gossips, is partly due to the unreasonable prices people pay in order to get a painting by the Swiss Nicolas Party. Henceforth, some buyers prefer historical Italian artists’ whose paintings generate the same feelings. I would disagree though: Salvo is a major artist of the Italian landscape. The colours and dynamics of his works remind me of the Italian futurists such as Giacomo Balla. That being said, Anotonacci Lapicciera Fine Art (Rome), has sold Quattro Stagioni by Balla for 1.000.000€. Sean Kelly (New York) traded for 950.000 $ a gigantic lush portrait of Tarek Ali Ellis and Michael Morgan by Kehinde Whiley in a pose reminding of a Pieta. The painting and the rest of Kelly’s scenography perfectly resonated with the artworks related to religious themes by most of the European old masters exhibited at the fair.

And so, I could carry on for hours describing the stunning things I saw in one-week time, among which a spectacular offer of fine pieces of jewellery, rare books and old maps, art from the middle east and far Asia, medieval art, modern design, etc. But we do not have time for all. Until next time then.

Top Photo: Röbbig Gallery (Munich) stand TEFAF.

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