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TEFAF Maastricht 2011:

by Brook S. Mason
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Billionaire David Koch, contemporary art collector Mickey Cartin and flocks of curators from the Louvre and even the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach sauntered down the aisles at the opening of TEFAF Maastricht, otherwise known as the European Fine Art Fair, Mar. 18-27, 2011, held every spring in the Dutch border town of Maastricht. In fact, the shaky global financial landscape and the devastating tsunami in Japan barely cast a shadow over offerings at the 24th annual event, which features 260 dealers from 16 countries showcasing over 30,000 works of art valued cumulatively at a stunning $1.4 billion.

Dealer allegiance to the fair is strong, with few dropouts, though what began as an Old Masters fair primarily serving traditional collectors has morphed in the last several years into a show whose offerings are far more diversified. New participants include the recently formed partnership of Blain|Southern from London and Gana Art from Seoul and New York, while the Manhattan dealer Barbara Mathes Gallery is returning after a one-year hiatus. Two dealers in Japanese works of art, Grace Tsumugi Fine Art and Malcolm Fairley Ltd., both of London, have signed on. Also newly recruited are Nella Longari of Milan with Italian antiques and Momos AG of Zurich with coins.

The stand of contemporary dealer Karsten Greve, who maintains galleries in Cologne, Paris and St. Moritz, was especially crowded, with viewers taking in a Louise Bourgeois sculpture from 2002, measuring over six feet tall and priced at $1 million. One of her signature attenuated columns of fabric-covered stones, the untitled work was on reserve before the opening night had ended.

"With 20 percent sold and ten percent already on reserve, I’m quite pleased with our results" says Greve. Artists sold include Jean Dubuffet, Frank Auerbach, John Chamberlain and Joseph Albers, among others. "Last year, we did very well on the second week with sales every day and that was surprising," says Greve. He believes that pattern of selling will be replicated this time. "We have important clients coming to the fair this week."

Still, antiques and traditional paintings continue to be the mainstay of the fair and 62 dealers make up the paintings section, telling of a European kind of baronial taste. Prices seemed high. The biggest surprise is the blockbuster stand of New York Old Masters dealer Otto Naumann, who has a pair of pictures valued at close to $60 million. On offer is Rembrandt van Rijn’s 1658 Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo for $47 million. Late Rembrandts are rarities and major-league collectors have owned this example, lending its provenance gilded edges. Among former owners are A&P supermarket heir George Huntingdon Hartford II, Johnson & Johnson heir J. Steward Johnson and casino mogul Steve Wynn. It last sold at Christie’s London for $33.2 million on Dec. 8, 2009.

Also on Naumann’s stand is Bernardo Bellotto’s Architectural Capriccio with a Self-Portrait of Bellotto in the Costume of a Venetian Nobleman,ca. 1761, for $11.5 million. The painter, dressed in crimson and exuding all the swagger of a contemporary real estate developer, commands the viewer to take in the complexity of the architectural scene he created.

The Rembrandt wasn’t the sole picture behind a velvet rope. London dealer Johnny van Haeften also opted for that museum-style presentation. He offered Frans Francken’s 1635 allegory, Mankind’s Eternal Dilemma -- The Choice between Vice and Virtue, for $14 million, and the “behind the velvet rope” touch drew crowds.

Offering equally important pictures, Jean-Luc Baroni of London has a work by the Florentine Mannerist Rosso Fiorentino, who was a contemporary of Andrea Del Sarto and Pontormo. In addition, no less than two works by Canaletto: Piazzetta and The Dogana are on view. Also featured with Baroni is a Gino Severini, Self Portrait with a Pipe and Panama Hat, 1908. “While the artist portrayed himself often, this is a strikingly luminous pastel on 1908, executed in the ‘divisionist’ style,” says Baroni.

Continuing in the vedute vein, the London and Milan dealership Robilant + Voena are offering a grand Francesco Guardi 1758 Piazza San Marco, Looking West nearby for $1.6 million. That particular picture is a recent discovery, a rare work from an early period when the painter’s style and perspective was similar to that of Canaletto. “The interest in vedute is not waning but growing,” says Robilant director Mira Dimitrova. Still, sales seemed slow.

With Bernheimer Colnaghi is a distinctive 17th century collaboration of Joos de Momper the Younger (1564-1635) and Jan Brueghel the Elder(1568-1625). For their Spring, de Momper provided the landscape while Brueghel filled in the figures.The cost is $4.8 million.

Dickinson has a 1939 Henri Matisse collage, Verve II, which presents snippets of magenta, purple and orange shapes on a black background. It’s priced at $3.5 million.

London’s Fine Art Society is sporting Walter Richard Sickert’s 1902 oil The Façade of St. Jacques. Sickert’s lifetime spanned both the 19th century and the 20th century. “He was a student of both Degas and Whistler,” says FAS director Gordon Cooke. Today, much of his work is in museums, including the Metropolitan and the Fogg. The Sickert is priced north of $1 million, a price indicative of the paucity of his important pictures that are remaining on the secondary market.

Antiques here are the dominant specialty and the quality is unrivalled. With Kunstkammer Georg Laue from Munich are two amber altarpieces with carved ivory. This pair may possibly have been made as a royal gift for the Prussian court, and they are priced at €500,000.

Jewelry stands like Wartski and À La Vieille Russie were packed. Both carry jewels by Fabergé, a favorite of the Russians.

The "modern" section has an unprecedented 46 dealers, and offerings at the booth of Landau Fine Art from Montreal outshine even that section of the Armory Show, seen only two weeks ago in New York. Landau showstoppers include a monumental Henry Moore Mother and Child from 1983. It’s from an edition of nine and was created just three years before the artist’s death. With both public and private sculpture gardens on the rise, the Moore should be snatched up early on.

On view at Thomas Gibson Fine Art of London is a piercingly bloody Jenny Saville nude, titled Pause (2003) for $1.95 million. That price seems reasonable in light of the fact that a far smaller Saville nude went for $2.4 million at Christie’s London recently. Also of note is the fact that Pause adorns the back cover of the Rizzoli monograph on the artist.

Larger this year is the "paper" section, which welcomes as an addition Stephen Ongpin Fine Art, a new shop on Mason’s Yard in London opened by the dealer formerly with Colnaghi. He has an Édouard Manet letter dating from 1879 adorned with a watercolor of plums and cherries. That document costs €210,000. Especially appealing is Gerhard Richter’s Komposition, an oil on card from 1989 with rivulets patterned in the paint. It can be found with Berlin gallery Jorg Maass Kunsthandel.

TEFAF has only eight design dealers. Attrition now characterizes this field, and the last Design Miami, which featured just over a dozen dealers, looks large in comparison. Even so, the participants are all top drawer: L’Arc en Seine, Galerie Downtown and Galerie Eric Philippe, all of Paris; Bel Etage of Vienna; and Galerie Ulrich Fiedler of Berlin, Yves Macaux of London, Rita Fancsaly of Milan and Sebastian+Barquet of New York. Sadly, the death of Brussels dealer Philippe Denys, whose stand always sold out, leaves a huge gap.

Scarcity is the big issue in the design field, just as it is with Old Masters. Even so, L’Arc en Seine has ferreted out a treasure: Eileen Gray’s white lacquer screen Briques, ca. 1923, priced at €1 million. “The white screen is the rarest,” says Christian de Boutonnet, who last year sold a spellbinding floor lamp in plaster by Diego Giacometti for €500,000.

The biggest growth spurt can be spotted in the three-year-old TEFAF Showcase specifically created for newer dealers. More than 80 dealers competed for six slots and among the winners are Crispian Riley-Smith, who started Master Drawings Week in London and New York; Gibson Antiques Ltd. from London with Chinese ceramics and works of art; and Galerie 1492 with Pre-Columbian and colonial art of the Americas, Galerie David Ghezelbash with antiquities and Galerie Sophie Scheidecker with modern and contemporary art, all of Paris. Another new participant is the Philadelphia Elle Shushan Fine Portrait Miniatures, a regular at the Winter Antiques Show.

Taking a pause between clinching sales of European miniatures, Shushan says, “I’m thrilled to be here and have already seen regular clients.” And that demonstrates the power of this fair.

BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.