TEFAF Basel to open this month

A big new event organised by the Maastricht team but with concessions to its Swiss location. Will it work?


A major new art fair welcomes the public this month. The European Fine Art Fair Basel aims to be one of the most important antiques fairs in central and southern Europe, according to its organisers, the European Fine Art Foundation, already known as organisers of the Maastricht Fair.

The 134 participants are drawn from the whole of Europe: thirty-two dealers from Germany, twenty-four from Switzerland, twenty-one from Britain, seven from Belgium, six from France, four from Spain, eight from Italy, twenty-three from Holland, four from Spain, one from Portugal, one from Austria, four from the US, and two from Monaco. It is notable that while the Dutch are ready to commit themselves to another event in addition to Maastricht, the Belgian and French contingent are more reluctant. In part, the absence of the French is due to the other new fair this month, the Salon des Beaux-Arts in Paris (20-25 September).

The fair is divided into clearly organised sections by subject: Classical and Egyptian antiquities; Oriental and Islamic art; books, manuscripts and maps; important jewellery; paintings and drawings; modern art and the decorative arts and antique jewellery. Falling under the last category are ceramics and porcelain, furniture and goldsmiths' work. With fifty exhibitors in this section, it is the largest in the fair. Second in size to this is the antiquities section, appropriately enough given the Swiss location of the event: thirty-seven are taking part.

In the antiquities section, highlights include an Egyptian papyrus 7.2 metres long in the form of a guide to the after-life (with Royal Athena Galleries, New York, $600,000); a Greek marble of Priapus, first century BC (Kunsthaus Axel G. Weber, Cologne, SFr280,000); a Roman marble portrait of Faustina, wife of Antonius Pius (with Thomas Howard Sneyd, London); and an Egyptian granite dish of around 2,600BC (with Roswitha Eberwein, Goettingen, around DM40,000).

In the Oriental and Islamic section, twenty-two dealers, nearly half of whom are British take part. This section also includes five tribal and pre-Columbian dealers but unlike Maastricht, there is no separate section for textiles. The new fair will also include some modern art, with six dealers in this field, while four big London dealers and one New Yorker - Richard Green, Johnny van Haeften, John Mitchell, Rafael Valls and Newhouse Galleries are grouping themselves in a separate, presumably "elite" section called "pavillon des tableaux".

Overall, the fair organisers have certainly enticed in some of the biggest names: Bernheimer; Colnaghi; Neuhaus; Tenschert; Ribolzi; and Spink among others. The issues will be whether the fair can attract a strongly defined type of visitor, as achieved at Maastricht; whether the heavy emphasis on antiquities will prove appealing; whether modern art can establish itself in a city known for contemporary art; and finally, whether there is room for another huge fair.