Overshadowed By An Armed Heist, TEFAF Maastricht 2022 Reflects The Highs And Lows Of Cross-Collecting

TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of TEFAF.
The Galerie Marcelpoil booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of TEFAF.
The David Aaron booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of TEFAF.
Vik Muniz, Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso (Surfaces), 2022, mixed media. © the artist. Image courtesy of the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.
The Tina Kim Gallery booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of Tina Kim Gallery.
The Galleri K booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of Galleri K.
The Tomasso booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of TEFAF.
(Left) Artemisia Gentileschi, Self portrait of the artist as Cleopatra on her deathbed, clasping a viper, c. 1620, oil on canvas, 1.14 x 0.75 m. Image courtesy of Jean-François Heim. (Right) Bari Statuette, 1840–80, wood, 42.5 cm (height). Photo © Frédéric Dehaen. Image courtesy of Bernard de Grunne.
The Galerie Marcilhac booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of TEFAF.
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Although slow to adopt digitalisation, and its buzz overshadowed by an armed robbery, TEFAF Maastricht 2022 returned to MECC last week. Contributing writer Rémy Jarry visits the fair and explores the highs and lows of its cross-collecting strategy.

TEXT: Rémy Jarry
IMAGES: Courtesy of various

 

The 35th edition of TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) Maastricht in the Netherlands has faced three major challenges to match the zeitgeist of today’s art market: greater competition from other fairs, a slow-moving digital strategy, and the socio-cultural selectivity of leading buyers.

Shortly after its inception in 1988 in Maastricht, the implementation of TEFAF’s seminal cross-collecting strategy has not only fuelled its international development over the past decades, but also got received endorsement from the art world through the multiplication of private collections and public exhibitions mixing works from various epochs and regions.

 

The Galerie Marcelpoil booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of TEFAF.
The David Aaron booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of TEFAF.

 

Yet, the sales and attendance of this latest edition haven’t matched the expectations despite the high concentration of museum-quality works preciously accumulated by exhibitors over the past two years. This commercial lukewarmness has been worsened by a daylight armed heist on the fifth day of the fair and the spectacular robbery of an eight-figure price-tagged piece of jewellery at the booth of Symbolic & Chase, a London-based jeweller. The robbers haven’t been caught so far and the police continues its investigations. TEFAF could legitimately hope for a better assessment for its 35th anniversary.

The fair was absent in Maastricht for more than two years following the sudden interruption of its previous edition in March 2020 due to COVID-19 infections among its exhibitors. Delayed from March to June 2022, the fair finally came back from 24 through 30 June with rare works of prized quality but remained squeezed between BRAFA Art Fair (19–26 June) in Brussels and Masterpiece (30 June–6 July) in London, two other fairs with comparable profiles. Even though TEFAF Maastricht tends to enjoy a greater reputation among A-list collectors, the most concrete impact of this very tight agenda is the lower number of exhibitors, from 280 in 2020 to 242 in 2022. The decrease is particularly conspicuous in the design section which counted only six galleries (down from 20 in 2020), isolated at one of the corners of the exhibition centre. Most of the absentees from that section have privileged Design Miami Basel (14–19 June) over the Dutch fair, in a post-pandemic context more susceptible to “fair fatigue”.

 

Vik Muniz, Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso (Surfaces), 2022, mixed media. © the artist. Image courtesy of the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

This intense competition among fairs has challenged the inherent diversity for TEFAF Maastricht’s promotion of cross-collecting—including between the exhibitors themselves. Throughout the sections spanning from antiques and tribal art to contemporary art and haute joaillerie, London and Paris accounted for nearly a quarter of the exhibitors respectively. New York galleries followed far behind but were leading at the earlier TEFAF New York (5–10 May) making up a third of the total exhibitors there. The Eurocentric profile of the fair has been accentuated by the relative discretion of Asian galleries: only two from Japan, one from South Korea and one from India if we exclude the Asian branches of Western-native galleries such as Ben Brown Fine Arts, Galleria Continua, or White Cube. Although underrepresented in the fair, East Asian galleries have contributed to initiating cross-cultural dialogues, such as the visual rhymes between Kanzan (1969), four lacquer panels by the late Japanese artist Morita Shiryū shown at Shibunkaku, and Destin (2016) at Waddington Custot, a series of two the paintings by French artist Fabienne Verdier articulating Western expressionism with Chinese ink painting and calligraphy. Presented by Galleria Continua, Buddha (2006), a Chinese vintage wood sculpture of a Buddha standing halfway up in a box of vermilion plexiglass by Michelangelo Pistoletto, is also reflecting this East/West cross-pollination.

 

The Tina Kim Gallery booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of Tina Kim Gallery.
The Galleri K booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of Galleri K.

 

 In parallel, TEFAF remains relatively slow in terms of digital innovation and communication. Although the fair has organised its inaugural digital edition in September 2021, it hasn’t capitalised on it as much as its competitors. Unlike Art Basel, there was no smartphone application available, nor any OVR (Online Viewing Room) accessible from the website for remote collectors during the fair. This is a critical limitation to catch the Asian collectors, largely absent due to travelling restrictions, as well as the younger generations of digital-savvy collectors, including the UHNWIs (ultra-high-net-worth individuals) from the new economy. In fact, this digital scepticism can also be traced through the scarcity of new media artworks presented at the fair. Bill Viola’s Traveling on Foot (2012) shown by Tina Kim Gallery, was one of the very few videos presented at the fair. Logically, NFTs and blockchain technology have been marginalised. Photography got better exposure thanks to the dedication of exhibitors such as Galleri K from Oslo, showing a compelling selection of photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Candida Höfer and Thomas Struth. The narrow selection of media partners also epitomises the limited connectivity of the fair. Consequently, videos of the heist have in turn filled the void and became instantly viral on social media, while remaining one of the main occurrences on the Internet for TEFAF Maastricht 2022, sadly.

 

The Tomasso booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of TEFAF.
(Left) Artemisia Gentileschi, Self portrait of the artist as Cleopatra on her deathbed, clasping a viper, c. 1620, oil on canvas, 1.14 x 0.75 m. Image courtesy of Jean-François Heim. (Right) Bari Statuette, 1840–80, wood, 42.5 cm (height). Photo © Frédéric Dehaen. Image courtesy of Bernard de Grunne.

 

 Ultimately, the concentration of museum-quality works at the fair hasn’t been enough to match the new paradigm of the art market on the quest for gender equality and socio-cultural inclusivity. This extra selectivity has obviously led to relevant re-evaluation in light of art history and to the late art market consecration of prominent artists, such as 17th century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi whose Self Portrait of the artist as Cleopatra on her deathbed, clasping a viper (c. 1620) was presented by Jean-François Heim at the fair.But it also complicates the potential match of the supply regardless of the quality of the works that are put on the market. The more we go back in time, the more difficult it is to bring underestimated artists on the market. Such pieces are rare and require long-term scholarship and time-consuming sourcing. With that said, inclusivity is sometimes not just about numbers. The section of tribal art had only six galleries in 2022 and in 2020. Yet, their visibility was relatively greater due to the originality of their selection: Galerie Lucas Ratton was showing African and Oceanic masks along with an abstract painting by the late Serge Poliakoff. Galerie Yann Ferrandin displayed African reliquary figures from the 19th century along with 18th century Japanese Noh Theatre masks. More daring rapprochements could be seen in other sections such as Galerie Jacques Barrère who presented Chinese antiquities—such as an outstanding wood sculpture of a Dragon King from the Northern Song Dynasty—with contemporary paintings by Anle Chen, a self-taught Chinese female artist. Although those audacious choices are personal picks according to the gallerists, they are cross-cultural and timeless epitomes of TEFAF at its best.

 

The Galerie Marcilhac booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2022, 25–30 June 2022. Image courtesy of TEFAF.

 

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