Tefaf expands its field of action from Maastricht to a world of art collectors

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AMSTERDAM – The Maastricht European Fine Arts Fair, the Netherlands, long recognized as the global showcase for museum-quality art and antiques, is no longer just a destination art fair, but a global art brand.

At least that is the goal of the Dutch foundation that manages the fair, according to Nanne Dekking, the new president of its board of directors, who took the helm in July. After the European Fine Arts Foundation launched the Spring and Fall fairs at Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan as Tefaf New York, it decided further changes were needed to shift Tefaf’s focus. towards a larger and more international clientele.

“What we’re really trying to achieve is become a global brand,” Dekking said in a telephone interview. “But it’s a more complex brand due to the great diversity of participants. We cannot say that we are going to be a global brand of impressionism or a global brand of contemporary art. What we need to establish is that we can become a global brand that people can trust. “

Tefaf follows the trend established by prestigious arts organizations such as Art Basel, which organizes fairs in Switzerland, Miami and Hong Kong; and Frieze, with events in London and New York as well as a magazine and an art academy.

The annual Tefaf fair in Maastricht, open to the public this year from March 8-18, retains its status as the premier Tefaf event. It is a magnet for around 75,000 visitors, including thousands of art collectors from around the world who land their private jets at Maastricht Aachen Airport to attend VIP openings and spend millions at the fair. .

But balancing the needs of the 275 exhibitors who attend the Dutch fair each year with the spring and fall fairs in New York, while trying to ensure that American events do not cannibalize Tefaf’s own audience, obliges the organization to rethink some of its strategies. .

This year, Tefaf reorganized its board, shifting around 20% of the top positions and replacing some of the board’s art dealers with other professionals, such as museum curators, art advisers and lawyers. “We realized that we not only need a more international organization, but we also need representatives not only from the art dealer world, but from the art market, in the organization,” said Mr. Dekking.

The new brand identity puts less emphasis on the original purpose of the founding group of merchants of Tefaf, which tended to specialize in the old Dutch and Flemish masters, and instead highlights the current encyclopedic nature of the 7,000 years of offerings from the Maastricht Fair, ancient and African porcelain and Oceanic arts through mid-century modern furniture and fine jewelry. And the fair continues to expand its modern and contemporary art section, reflecting the market’s taste for contemporary art which has generated record sales in recent years.

This year Tefaf Maastricht has 16 new exhibitors. More than half of them are devoted to contemporary and modern painting, works on paper or design, including the Perrotin contemporary art galleries, with five international locations; the Leon Tovar Gallery in New York, representing modern Latin American art; and Jousse Entreprise from Paris, which showcases modern architectural furniture and works of art.

Tefaf showcase, a segment of the show dedicated to supporting “young innovative and exceptional resellers”, is dominated by new European resellers, including the Cortesi Gallery based in Lugano, Switzerland, and Belgium Le Beau Gallery, which focuses on 20th century design, but also newcomers Charles-Wesley Hourdé, specialist in Paris in African, Oceanic and pre-Columbian art; and that of London Kallos Gallery, sale of old art and antiques.

Instead of talking about periods or genres of works for sale, Tefaf emphasizes what CEO Patrick van Maris calls its core values.

“The brand represents the best works of art selected by Tefaf, represented by the best art dealers in the world,” he said. “We have a very solid control system and the trust aspect is extremely important to Tefaf. One of the most important things we would really like to find out is that dealers have a story to tell, and we provide a platform for that.

Another value that could be added to this list this year: exclusivity. Tefaf Maastricht changed its opening policy this year, to give its larger consumers more time to browse and focus on buying. Unlike in past years, where there was only one VIP day, this year the first two days of this year’s fair will be open to guests only. The doors will open to everyone on March 10, for just eight days of public screening, instead of the traditional nine.

The push for this change came from participating dealerships, Mr. Dekking said. “There was an outcry among the dealers,” he said. “They felt like we were inundated with tourists who just liked to be there and see each other. I have to say it was the truth, it was too crowded. On the opening night, real shoppers want to be able to have a space to run from booth to booth to make sure they can buy something.

These changes in structure, focus and direction were understandably greeted with mixed feelings by some of the long-term participants. For example, Guy Stair Sainty, a London dealer of old masters, did not have an optimistic view of the board’s ambition to establish itself as a global brand.

“Who does this benefit? The Tefaf foundation or the dealers? he said in a telephone interview. “Tefaf is a foundation that was formed by dealers, paid for by dealers, and it should be for dealers. It’s no big deal for the people behind it. I think the focus should be on the success of the dealers who participate in it. Everything else is irrelevant.

James Roundell, director of the Dickinson Gallery, who will be leaving the Modern Presidents section after this year’s show, said he believes it is time for Tefaf to think bigger.

“We live in a world where branding is everything, so being just a small art fair is no longer enough if you want a global profile,” he said. “We live in a world of brands; what is Nike if not a brand, what is Apple, what are Christie’s and Sotheby’s? There’s no reason Tefaf couldn’t be up there with them in terms of the global profile, with a little work.

Longtime Tefaf participant, old masters dealer Bob Haboldt, who owns galleries in New York, Paris and Amsterdam, is optimistic about the changes. “The people who are now in charge, with a younger board of directors, have looked at Frieze and looked at the weaknesses of other fairs, and they’re trying to establish a fair that has its own brand that they can export,” , he said in a telephone interview. “It’s been moderate success in the Armory so far, but I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Mr Dekking also guessed that this was just the start of a process that would take place over several years. As for other kinds of services the brand might encompass, Mr Dekking and Mr van Maris said they are working on a partnership called Tefaf Education with neighboring Maastricht University to develop art connoisseur courses, for example. . They said it was too early to discuss other specific plans.

“We can dream of what you can do as a brand, but let’s start by establishing the brand as much as possible,” Mr. Dekking said. “We want to focus on the audit committee, and I think we need a few years to establish the New York Fair. The brand is only a brand when you can explain to people what you stand for.

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