Can the global art crowd endure yet another new entry on the fair circuit? Well, surprisingly, the answer is an emphatic "yes," at least when the show in question is the Salzburg World Fine Art Fair, which opened on July 27, 2007, and runs through Aug. 4, 2007. Even Mme François Pinault showed up -- and her husband owns Christie’s and a slew of luxury brands. She spent four hours trolling the 30-dealer event, which is organized under the supervision of Yves Bouvier, creator of the four-year-old Moscow World Fine Arts Fair. Pinault’s presence alone warrants the fair the gilt-edged seal of approval.
Other high marks for this new show include the fair fittingly coinciding with the Salzburg Summer Festival, which draws practically a Maastricht-sized audience of 250,000 attendees, dwarfing the Salzburg population of 160,000. Adding to the allure of the fair is the considerable wealth of this part of the world. For one thing, the BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen headquarters are a short sprint away. And nearby Fussel is home to Red Bull, the drink of choice for the caffeine-crazed set, making that hamlet the richest community in Austria or, to put it another way, the Alps version of 90210.
The fair is housed in the 17th-century Archbishops Residenz, where Mozart gave his first concert at a mere six years old. Its exterior of buff tones is akin to a marzipan confection. Painted ceilings aflock with winged putti, period parquet flooring and boiserie with ornately carved mantels provide a sumptuous backdrop for the art on offer.
Another plus perking up the fair is the dealer roster, which includes a number of veterans of TEFAF Maastricht as well as the Paris Biennale, to name two other top decorative-arts events, dealers like Konrad Bernheimer, Albrecht Neuhaus, Röbbig and Steinitz. But the biggest surprise in this Baroque venue is its hipster contemporary edge.
A scene-stealer was spotted with the local Rudolf Budja Gallery, which is featuring a politically charged coffee table by the Viennese artist Heidi Popovic that is certain to spark commentary over cocktails on the U.S. presence in war-torn Iraq. The huge, low white Parson table is painted with the figure of an armed American soldier in camouflage that perfectly matches the surrounding Iznik tile design. At only €12,000, it sold immediately.
Another winner is the Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier from Paris, which just picked up the entire Artcurial inventory of limited editions by the likes of Yayoi Kusama, Sonia Delaunay, Giorgio de Chirico and other major names. This gallery is on roll and just opened in the Marais district in Paris. Though some of its editions are huge, that can help keep prices down, as with a Jean Cocteau double profile in bronze in an edition of 500 that is a pleasing €3,800. Only 20 are left. Challier also has the ultimate decanter set, in a silvered bronze case with a Baccarat flagon and Murano glasses by Jean-Michel Othoniel. With only four glasses and price tag of €150,000, it’s totally over the top.
While the contemporary art pickings vary hugely, hands down the best specialist dealer has to be Galerie Thomas. Front and center on its stand is John Chamberlain’s Paradiddledashboard, with sheath-like car parts as leaves. "It will appeal to botanical collectors," says Raimund Thomas. The sculpture is priced at €650,000.
Fans of 20th-century design should certainly consult with Roberto Polo of the Galerie Historismus, recently relocated to Brussels. In his first fair ever, Polo is touting outstanding examples, including rare Josef Hoffmann lighting fixtures and furniture as well as Gerrit Rietveld chandeliers. Top of the tree is an Eileen Gray (1878-1977) table lamp demonstrating all the characteristics of her work -- a monochromatic palette, a checkerboard base and a revolving stand. Its €850,000 price tells of the small 1918 lamp’s importance and just how far the market for "smalls" has climbed.
Some dealers are upping a certain coy factor allied with the fashion for lap dogs, and the Paris firm Kraemer Antiquaire, founded in 1875, appears the leader in this category. Its entire stand is filled with 18th-century French kennels, the diminutive kind, some with red damask mattresses, though they are hardly bargain-priced. A Louis XV kennel in faux marble, looking rather recently repainted, is tagged at €135,000. In this age of pampered pooches, Kraemer collared a sale in a nanosecond at the vernissage.
Even the Munich dealer Röbbig, known for its Old World look (dix-huitième gilt furniture, Meissen porcelain and Louis XV clocks) has gone the way of canine chic. On offer are a pair of 1742 Meissen pugs by Johan Joachim Kändler for €135,000. Down the aisle, Paris dealer Lefebvre & Fils has a similar pair of that breed in porcelain. Only Lefebvre’s pugs are perched on 19th-century gilt bronze mounts, explaining their €60,000 price.
Finer fittings can be snapped up at Albrecht Neuhaus Kunsthandel from Wurzburg. On view is a rare japanned and gilt secretary with chinoiserie scenes. Inside this 1725 piece of furniture are 23 drawers. At €500,000, the secretary is the best of its kind and packed with a weighty provenance. It was made for the Bishop of Köln. "There’s a similar one in the Museum of Lacquer in Münster," says Neuhaus.
Also of particular note is the way that the Munich-based Konrad Bernheimer is now cleverly extending his prowess into the luxury travel circuit. He’s partnered with Stefan Schörghuber, whose Schörghuber Corporate Group is laden with breweries, hotels and other real estate endeavors, and supplied more than 140 Old Masters to the nearby 110-room Hotel Schloss Fuschl. Call this his third gallery. "The paintings help guests learn that 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century pictures just don’t hang in museums," says Bernheimer. And yes, he has clinched sales at the hotel.
Such a strategic alliance appears a "win, win" for Bernheimer. Schörghuber himself plucked up a Johann Georg Platzer (1704-1761) Allegory of the Five Senses on copper for €780,000 off his stand. It’s understandable, as the Austrian-born Platzer is a favorite son.
Sponsoring the fair is BMW, which has supplied a fleet of innovative Hydrogen 7 vehicles for favored fair attendees. All prototypes, they are fuelled by liquid hydrogen at minus 273 Celsius and chauffer-driven. They are divine and BMW already has one on loan to Austria’s current famous son, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
With that kind of perk for clients, BMW is giving this fair the acclaim it needs to secure a permanent spot on the global circuit. The press showed up en masse with journalists from France, UK, Italy and Russia, too. In fact the journalists outnumbered the dealers by three to one. That kind of promotion is bound to win this show even more dealers next year.
And surprise, surprise. Fair organizer Bouvier is scouting out Manhattan for, yep, yet one more fair.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times, the New York Sun and other publications.