Maastricht Netherlands

Could Maastricht’s big event sell the big tickets?

The most expensive items proved hard to shift, although dealers seemed content

MAASTRICHT. Six-metre-high walls of white roses lined the entrance to this year’s European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf), held as always in the Dutch city of Maastricht (12-21 March), testimony to the lavish sophistication of this renowned event. Now at capacity with 263 dealers, the fair transformed the soulless MECC conference hall and expanded into the first floor, once again, with a newly created “Works on Paper” section. “It’s like going into a bubble,” said contemporary dealer Iwan Wirth of Hauser & Wirth. “There is more than 2,000 years of art history on show. It’s like the British Museum!”

After a disastrous two years for the global economy, the question on everyone’s lips was whether collectors were prepared to dig into their pockets again. Last year, in the wake of the Yves Saint Laurent sale at Christie’s Paris, sales at Maastricht were surprisingly robust even if expectations were low. With recent auctions indicating a revival in the art market, dealers were hoping that the objects they had saved to show at Tefaf would find a response among the well-heeled, connoisseur collectors that the fair traditionally attracts.

Initially, sales were slow with the lower priced objects finding buyers, but many of the big-ticket items stayed stubbornly unsold. There were, however, exceptions, including a black bronze portrait bust of Louis XIV by François Girardon priced at around $1.5m with London’s Daniel Katz, which went to an American museum on the first day, while a German collector scooped up a 1982 Basquiat, Busted Atlas 2, for $2.4m at Christophe van de Weghe. At the day-long VIP view Bernheimer-Colnaghi sold Bacchus and Venus by Franz Christoph Janneck (1703-61), priced at €395,000, to a private collector.

“Tefaf is an amazing experience,” said newcomer Michael Hoppen who was showing in the “Works on Paper” section. “Sales are tough—partly because we are new, but also because the recession has bit, even in this rarified air,” he said. Marco Voena added: “It is true that sales are a little slow, as clients try to [get] some bargains and it is difficult to accept their offers,” but overall he was “very happy” and sold several paintings ranging from E300,000 to E500,000 to European clients and Tiepolo’s The Toothpuller, from around 1775, for under a million dollars to former Sotheby’s chairman Alfred Taubman. But, as Dickinson’s Heinrich zu Hohen­lohe observed: “Big-ticket items, over $5m, do not sell easily at the best of times. People like to take their time, something they cannot do when buying at auction.” He added: “The fair has been a resounding success. We’ve made a number of sales, have made new contacts and new business is being generated for the future. What more can you want?”

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