This time last week, I was attending TEFAF Maastricht Art Fair along with 75,000 other people. Looking at various exhibiting galleries and dealers from all over the world is common to all art fairs, but the calibre and finesse of works available at TEFAF Maastricht, especially the concentration of antiques, ancient art and works on paper was a notch above the rest.
Friday morning started with a symposium. First was a presentation by Prof. Dr. Rachel Pownall, author of the 2017 TEFAF Art Market Report, followed by a panel discussion about the 'importance of context in determining the value of a work of art'. Both these activities were relevant to my current Art Business course, and the invitation to attend this event at the beginning of TEFAF Maastricht 2017 (March 10-19 this year) was a positive learning experience.
One of the best features of the fair were the ‘Specials’, two of my favourite being the exhibition by Galleria Borghese and 'TEFAF Curated' by Penelope Curtis titled ‘La Grande Horizontale’. The main appeal of these sections were twofold - firstly, in a setting where all other spaces had a primary commercial purpose and design, these spaces had an indirect one. These therefore became points in the fair that dispersed the tensions that can be built up by row after row of interactions between prospectives buyers and sellers by bringing them together and highlighting their commonality: they are both lovers of art objects. Showing fine curation and inviting fair-goers to engage again in simple art appreciation is also a great way for differentiating a fair from the pool of fairs where the majority of exhibitors are returning dealers and gallerists of previous editions.
As a student and new-comer to the world of art, I always approach fairs firstly as places of learning, and secondly as commercial affairs. The potential of art fairs as places of learning is immense given the level and sector of market activity and the quality of artworks on display. Understandably, dealers and gallerists do not have a strong incentive to make their booths conducive places of learning for fair-goers like myself. Not everyone is welcoming to those who simply are not prospective buyers, and my position can reveal the attitudes of gallerists and dealers (i.e. the extent of their open-mindedness, the centrality of their profit motive) quite quickly. It is always heartening when someone as qualified and involved in TEFAF Maastricht such as Jean-David Cahn invests time in encouraging ‘new blood’ and invites questions from the young attendees at these fairs.
Much can be said about my fellow attendees as well. The demographic of the fair-goers was difficult to miss - the majority were old, affluent couples with Continental European backgrounds. I could not help but chuckle every time I passed by the salad, sushi, oyster or champagne bars - it looked like a very large and calm non-diverse family were sat at their dining table.
TEFAF had much fresh energy, but only of a certain kind. There were gallerists and dealers enthusiastic about conversing with me when we shared a passion for and liking for a certain artwork they had brought in to the Maastricht hall. There were also those who only engaged with me when they misjudged me for a prospective buyer; sometimes with very ridiculous and poorly crafted spiel about works I either knew more about (yes, really) or knew as little as they did about. Opportunities for learning presented themselves at the symposium, and thereafter only by chance.
Where new blood wants to emerge, usually players in the art market would do well to facilitate that process for the continued growth and success. TEFAF Maastricht was one of my first experiences where this was so conflicted between the organisers and majority of gallerists and dealers.Trying to swim against that current all weekend turned out to be exhausting.
I should end this with a word i have added to my personal word bank - my vocabulary - after attending TEFAF Maastricht:
Bleary- (adj.) weary, worn out