The big stakes, high-dollar international art world is booming beyond belief. The money is flowing as freely with the volume of the masterpieces that are being sold at the most prestigious gathering of valuable art and discerning buyers. Join our globe-trotting Lance Avery Morgan as we jet to The European Fine Art Fair in The Netherlands.

Photography by  LORAINE BODEWES, NATASCHA LIBBERT & MARK NEIDERMANN   

IT’S FAIR GAME

We all know how the very rich own and appreciate art. A tremendous amount of art, in fact. According to Wealth X, a wealth intelligence firm, the average billionaire holds $31 million dollars, or .5% of their net worth, in art. Very familiar to the collector is to value an object of beauty, and to competitively pay for what they love. Those people and those who aspire to be like them are at the grandest art fair on the planet, The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF).

 

If it is Thursday on a crisp and cool day in Maastricht, Holland, about two hours from Amsterdam, then it must be opening day at the wildly prestigious 32nd annual The European Fine Arts Fair (TEFAF) where both aristocracy and well-heeled art lovers gather under one large roof to scout one-of-a-kind pieces…to either complement, or begin, a world-class art collection.

 

TEFAF is often referred to as a museum in which everything is for sale. Really, it could be called hoarding for billionaires. Susan Lynch, Chair of the Board of Directors and Patrons of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut mused, “TEFAF is inspiring, educational and a delight.” So much so that last year the Fair was loaned a significant collection display of Old Masters from the Amsterdam Museum.

 

Consider this a primer on your visit to the Fair, whether you are attending for the first time, or you are a veteran of the exquisite Fair that has 280 exhibitors from 20 different countries. Between them they exhibited more than 30,000 works of art, antiques and design objects from pre-history to the present day with an aggregate value of more than 3 billion Euros. “At TEFAF you get spoiled forever,” shared American collector Jean Doyen de Montaillou, about the 7000 years of art history on display and for sale. In fact, the Fair is so important that is has borne an offspring that now occurs in May and November in New York.

 

 

ARTISTIC AMBITIONS

How does this prestigious fair offer something not easily found at other fairs? Houstonian art collector Sir Mark Haukohl, with whom we dined at a castle near the Fair, is an avid Old Masters collector and always attends the gathering to see how he can add to his collection in some way. He confided, “In comparison, the Venice Biennale, Art Basel Switzerland and TEFAF are all horses of a different color. The Venice Bienalle offers no art work for sale, so you are looking at a curated and solely contemporary exhibition, reflecting the taste or lack thereof of selected curators. If you want to buy edgy contemporary modern and contemporary work, Art Basel Switzerland is for you. With important dealers from all over the world, it is the largest fair for today’s contemporary collector. I visit opening day every year and always find something for my contemporary photography collection, The European Woman of the 21st Century.

Robert Labadie, a Dutch private equity kingpin and collector agrees, and told me over another dinner with he and his wife, Ingrid Labadie who is in charge of corporate events for the Fair, “This fair has everything under one big roof. The fair sets trends and therefore collectors, as well as dealers, have to be present to take advantage.”

 

And, take advantage is what visitors do in this highly fueled world of art procuring. After having traveled luxuriously on KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines, when the doors open on the first day of the Fair, VIP day, it feels like the race gun firing the start of the Kentucky Derby, with anticipation at a similar fever pitch. The thrill of the hunt fills the air. The metaphoric scent of money and ambition, both wildly sexy, permeates the large hall of the Fair in very hushed tones.

 

With dozens of corridors and hundreds of stands (exhibits), the other 70,000 attendees likely felt a surge of energy about the art they were encountering once the action starts. In fact, during the preview and the run of the Fair, visitors consumed 15,000 glasses of champagne; 31, 000 glasses of wine; 75,000 cups of coffee; 10,000 pastries; 50,000 sandwiches and 11,000 oysters, which were served by 2300 waiters having been prepared by 515 cooks. Plus, the array of literally hundreds of thousands of tulips, a nod to the Dutch presence, captured the Fair’s essence at every turn.

MUSEUM QUALITY

Representatives of well over 200 museums, also came to see, mingle and buy. Did they feel the impact of the sensory overload of a reasonable sampling of the most beautiful art to be found anywhere on this planet like I did? Likely. Wim Pijbes, director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam shared, “Even the most indulged museum director will see things at TEFAF that are so unique that surprising purchases can be made.’’ Some of the museums that were well represented included those as prestigious as the Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore, the Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as the Louvre in Paris. Dr Ulrich Guntram, AXA Art’s Global CEO stated, “Once again TEFAF outperformed in engaging art lovers and connoisseurs with best-in-class offerings in fine art, antiques and historical objects.”

 

Just what did I discover at the Fair? What didn’t I see is more like it. I observed  that the standard of art was particularly high, quelling the oft-reported notion that the Old Master market is in its throes of death. It was apparent that dealers went out of their way to bring fresh, privately sourced stock to the Fair. Works bought at auction where exhibitors added value through research, restoration and sometimes reattribution also had no difficulty finding buyers. It was a sellers’ market and also, a buyer’s market. So much so that I saw masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum that it felt somewhat usual to encounter such masterpieces.  

 

MODERN ERA

World famous streets known for their artistic inclinations like Place de la Concorde, Fifth Avenue, Trafalgar Square, Place Vendome and others mark the territory that is the Fair. The art patrons who stroll the rarified avenues know that they are buying with confidence.  According to sources at TEFAF, the Fair is unrivalled in its standard of quality and in the methods it uses to establish the authenticity of every painting and object on sale. Participating dealers are admitted only after a strict selection process. The Fair’s groundbreaking vetting system involves no fewer than 175 international experts in 29 different categories, who examine every work of art for quality, authenticity and condition. It means that a piece of work is bought with the greatest possible confidence.

Interestingly, even though it is not centuries old, modern and contemporary art is also vetted, a procedure that is uncommon at other art fairs. Before the Fair opened over 175 international experts on 29 separate specialist committees examined each object for quality, authenticity and condition.  TEFAF Antiques is the biggest section in the Fair with 102 exhibitors. This is followed by the TEFAF Paintings and TEFAF Modern sections that were packed with artful seekers.

How was the vetting done? The highly sophisticated technical equipment, such as the advanced Hirox digital microscope and the portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer supports the vetting members’ personal expertise. The Fair was also the first to introduce The Art Loss Register (ALR) in 2000, which is the largest private database of stolen art, provides information about registered stolen art. It goes without saying that any stolen objects are removed from the Fair immediately and although I haven’t heard any stories about that at recent Fairs, no doubt it has occurred, but the high trust factor is something on which visitors can count. For the prices that the art and objects are selling, that peace of mind is warranted.

 

ART FOR ART’S SAKE

Who is the typical buyer and visitor to the Fair? There isn’t an archetype individual, as such. Von Bartha, a gallery in London, reported meeting a number of high net worth and ultra high net worth individuals at the Fair and reported healthy sales including one of the most well-known paintings. Jewelry also performed well at TEFAF, with works by René Lalique proving exceptionally popular again for collectors. TEFAF Antiques is not only the largest section of the Fair, but regarded by many as its treasure house. 

 

Dr. Clare McAndrew, author of TEFAF Art Market Report, presented the report at a prior TEFAF Art Symposium themed Rising Stars of the Art World.  The report, which examined the global art market with a focus on China, referred to a highly polarized market with the heaviest buying and best performance concentrated at the high end of the market for the best-known artists. Early sales at TEFAF confirmed this trend with a number of important objects being sold at the Private View and on the first public day.

 

Whatever the masterpiece, be it classical, an antiquity or a contemporary treasure, The European Fine Art Fair is the place to be to either start or add to a collection in grand style, ahead of the pack, and sometimes for a financial deal not expected. Really, it is a gathering spot for any collector these days. As Sir Mark Haukohl sums it up best, “By attending TEFAF, as well as the other fairs and biennales, I better my personal collecting eye. How does a collector improve their taste and the intellectual depth of their collection today?  Get on the plane and go. Look, listen…and then look again.”