Sunday, November 10, 2019

TEFAF - New York - 2019



The European Fine Arts Fair (TEFAF) was established in Maastricht, the Netherlands in 1988, thanks to the efforts of art dealer, Robert Noortman.  His gallery happened to be in Maastricht, which is a small medieval town historically important for trade as it is located at the junction of two rivers.  Important treaties have been signed here as It is near the border of modern-day Germany, Belgium and France.  It has the advantage for an art fair as being somewhere that is lovely, restful and there is not much else you can.  So, when people make the trip, they do with the thought at least of maybe buying something.  I am told that there are 10,000 visitors to TEFAF Maastricht every day.

New York is not that kind of town so though many may come, an art fair is just one of many cultural choices you might have any day of the week!  We were at TEFAF New York 10 days ago for close to 6 hours on the opening day. We managed to at least pass and look into all 90 stands which is less than half the number of dealers that you find in Maastricht.  Of course, we went back for a shorter time a few days later.  A curator at the Maastricht edition once told me he had been in the fair for 3 days and not seen everything yet!

In this year’s New York fair, the passages before you get to the booths are hung with an exhibition titled, “Artfully Dressed: Women in the Art World”.  The large-scale portraits by photographer Carla van de Puttelaar are of women dealers, curators, artists and patrons of the arts.  The show was sponsored by Bank of America and curated by art dealer, Rachel Kaminsky.  Rachel told us that the project came about when she met the photographer who had asked to photograph her and Rachel realized that she was in a position to introduce her to other powerful women in the art world.  I must say that I knew quite a number of these women, but they were so artfully dressed and posed that I recognized few. Here are two of the images.  The first is of Rachel and the second is of mega collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund with her granddaughter Ellie Traggio.



I am sure there were celebrities among the visitors, but I just saw colleagues and friends.  At functions like these if you have been in the art world over a long period of time you see these folks again and again.  At 75 I am lucky enough to have spent many years in this group.

Our first stop was at the Wildenstein Gallery. My family has dealt with the Wildensteins  for generations as we have always been in similar fields of art.  At this fair they were one of the few dealers to occupy one of the historic rooms not just a stand on the Armory floor.  They showed some wonderful French 18th century paintings of which my favorite was Jean Francois de Troy’s, circa 1714, “Danae Receiving Zeus Disguised as a Shower of Gold”.


Also, from my old world contacts were the Kugel brothers from Paris. They had an incredible object, “The Comte de Charolais Fountain”, which has a distinguished provenance back to the 18th century. It is composed of a Chinese late 17th or early 18th century celadon vase and two porcelain fu dogs mounted as a fountain on a gilt bronze base. It must have been assembled around 1749 by a Paris marchand mercier (dealer who put together the various parts to create precious novelty wares).  It was described in detail in the inventory of the Comte de Charolais (1700-1760).


The founder of the Lillian Nassau Gallery in New York was responsible for the revival of interest in Louis Comfort Tiffany. The gallery continues the tradition, under the aegis of Arlie Sulka and Eric Silver with an example of his work that they had the good fortune to recently acquire. It is a monumental wrought iron fireplace hood ornamented with Japanese sword guards created by Tiffany for a New York mansion on 72nd street.


An object that really got to me was this Spanish terracotta Head of Saint John the Baptist by Jose de Mora (1642 – 1724) which was exhibited by the Mullany Gallery from London.


Many of the booths had creative installations such as this large silvered frame hanging at the front of the booth introducing the English silver wares of  Shrubsole from New York.


One of the most exciting objects in the show was also one of the smallest.  It was a Book of Hours made for Queen Claude of France created circa 1520-23.  The tiny vellum leaves are painted with text, patterns and full scenes.  I hope to devote a complete Missive to it in the near future.  When we spoke to the dealer, Heribert Tenschert from Switzerland I was delighted to learn that the missal came from the Vienna Rothschild Collection that my family handled in the 1940’s and beyond.  The jeweled and enamel gold cover for the missal was found separately but when the binder put the book inside, the fit was so perfect that he said he believed it was made for it.  These miracles happen in the art world, seldom, but they are not unique.


TEFAF organized a cultural program of lectures and panels during the fair.  We heard an interesting one on the restoration of Notre Dame after aa fire earlier this year. Panelists stressed the importance of restoring Violet le Duc’s work on the cathedral as it marked the beginning of the modern science of architectural preservation. 

Since I have not been traveling abroad in recent years, TEFAF New York, combined with visits to a few of the incredible museums in this town, gave us the fix we needed from the art of former times!