TEFAF Maastricht reaches beyond its European core

Chairman Ben Janssens has spent the year charming galleries and collectors in other continents


Nestled in the middle of northern Europe, the European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) has, for nearly a quarter of a century, attracted the best art and antiques from its home turf. For this year’s event, the dealer co-operative that runs and owns the fair has worked hard to entice visitors from further afield, while encouraging galleries to present objects from beyond the European canon.

This has been spearheaded by the chairman, Ben Janssens, now in his fifth year at the helm and himself an oriental art dealer, who says that he and his team have been identifying areas where Tefaf is not so well known in order to drum up more business. “We have Europe pretty well covered and there is great awareness of us in the United States, but there is a wider world out there where people don’t know us as well,” he said, adding “we need to broaden our scope to reflect a more international market”.

The fair does not have much turnover of galleries, particularly when compared with some of its contemporary counterparts—there are 14 newcomers among the 260 dealers who are this year again separated into nine sections. Two of these galleries—London’s Malcolm Fairley and Grace Tsumugi Fine Art—specialise in Japanese antiques, an area which the fair has not previously featured, according to Janssens. He himself will be bringing a 17th-/18th-century mother-of-pearl lacquer incense box from Japan’s Ryukyu islands (price undisclosed). Another new gallery, Gana Art Gallery, comes from Korea and joins the fair’s 46 “modern section” galleries. This grouping also includes fellow Korean gallery Kukje. Gana director Jung Lee says the gallery is “very keen to participate” in the 2011 edition and will be bringing works by modern European artists, including Magritte and Picasso, together with representative works of contemporary Korean artists. The fair also has a Chinese version of its website.

Tefaf’s gentle shift towards the east mirrors changes in the wider art market. While the fair is not releasing the annual report on the market by economist Clare McAndrew until mid-March, it is expected to show that the 2010 art market recovery was driven primarily by China and the US rather than Europe. Janssens says he is beginning to detect serious interest from Chinese buyers for non-Chinese works.

One such artist currently appealing to the Asian market is Renoir, back in favour at an international level. An Asian collector bought his Gabrielle tenant un miroir ou Marie Dupuis tenant un miroir..., undated, for £481,250 at Christie’s in London on 10 February (est £300,000-£400,000). Major Renoirs are coming to Tefaf: an exhibition with New York’s Hammer Galleries includes La Leçon, around 1906 (price undisclosed as we went to print), which will be shown for the first time at Maastricht, and one “true impressionist” work by Renoir will be brought by London dealer James Roundell (Dickinson Gallery), who was keeping quiet about the details of the painting until the fair’s opening. Both galleries will show in the paintings section. New exhibitor Stephen Ongpin (London) is bringing a Renoir watercolour, Study of a Bather, a preparatory work for his painting Bathers in the Forest, around 1897, currently in the Barnes Foundation in the US. The study is priced at £125,000, and will be included in the Tefaf on Paper section, the newest addition to the fair, which will have 16 dealers exhibiting (see below).

The bulk of Janssens’ travels have been to South America rather than Asia, where he says he has met particularly receptive and impressive collectors. Much of his promotional activity was set in motion by Galeria Sur of Montevideo, a newcomer at last year’s event that is returning to the modern section this year. It has been instrumental in increasing interest in the fair in its home country Uruguay as well as in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Janssens is expecting more Latin American visitors to this year’s event.

Other highlights can be found within Tefaf’s tried and tested markets. London dealer Robert Bowman is bringing a Musée Rodin cast of Balzac (cast in 1975 from Rodin’s original plaster) priced at £650,000 (Tefaf Antiques). Also from London, Rupert Wace is bringing a marble Greek idol in the form of a woman (about 5300-4500 BC), one of fewer than a dozen known pieces from this early era (Classical Antiquities, priced over €1m). Otto Naumann brings to Maastricht from New York Bernardo Bellotto’s Architectural Capriccio with a Self-portrait in the Costume of a Venetian Nobleman, 1761-67 (Tefaf Paintings, €8.2m).

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Maastricht fair reaches beyond its European core'