What was new and different a year ago is now routine: a venerable art fair is completely digital.
In view of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the organizers of the European Fine Art Fair, which will present TEFAF Online 2021 from Thursday to Monday, have decided that a virtual edition is the smart move – although several trade fairs have already taken place in person this year.
“We’re not there yet to make it personal,” said Hidde van Seggelen, chairwoman of the fair and contemporary art dealer. “We don’t want to risk it. We are concentrating on celebrating 35 years of TEFAF in Maastricht next year. “
Founded in Maastricht, the Netherlands, in 1988, the fair usually takes place there in late winter. In 2016 it was expanded to include two New York editions in the spring and fall, but now only one annual event is planned there starting in spring 2022. In November TEFAF had a previous online edition.
This time, more than 260 dealers from all over the world are showing virtually, each limited to three works.
“It’s good to limit it and focus the mind,” said Mr van Seggelen. “And over 700 objects are a lot.”
TEFAF has long been proud of their rigorous review process, which got tougher in 2019 when the fair tightened the rules to ensure that independent experts ran the process, not traders.
“We keep our verification standards high, which is even more difficult online,” said van Seggelen, as the process is usually mostly in person. “With 28 committees and 180 people, it’s complicated.”
The variety of materials from antiquity to the present is one of the sales arguments that the organizers emphasize.
“TEFAF is a trade fair without borders,” said van Seggelen. “We represent 7,000 years of art history.”
As Christophe Van de Weghe, board member and exhibitor, put it: “The future of collecting is cross-collecting,” which means a mixture of eras, styles and media.
Mr. Van de Weghe from New York City and East Hampton, NY, will show works by Picasso and Keith Haring as well as Alexander Calder’s 1972 mobile “Petit Rouge en Bas”.
Traditional, older works – and the collectors who prefer them – have long been the mainstay of the fair.
Lutz and Christiane Peters, married collectors based in Hamburg, have bought half a dozen paintings from TEFAF over the years, many of them from the “classical modern age” of the early 20th century by the German painter Max Beckmann.
“The special thing about TEFAF is that you can count on it to offer the best art in the world,” said Peters, who owns and operates a country club. “If there is a Beckmann work on the market, it will probably be on display at the next TEFAF.”
The couple’s collection also includes a 16th-century painting by Lucas Cranach the Younger and two works by Toulouse-Lautrec.
Mr. Peters is the kind of collector’s art fair organizer who, at the beginning of online art fairs, wondered: Would buyers at the top end of the market who are used to face-to-face interactions make a click-to-buy purchase?
He said he was open to the idea.
“I haven’t bought anything online yet,” said Mr Peters. “But why shouldn’t I do it? As long as I know the seller. ”He emphasized that working with trustworthy galleries, including Dickinson from New York and London, was his greatest concern.
Peters said he will not be traveling to Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland, which is due to take place in person this month, but only because of a scheduling conflict.
“Covid wouldn’t stop me,” he said. “As long as the regulations allow.”
Some dealers only show one work at TEFAF Online, including Sean Kelly from New York showing “Blue Moon” (2021), a painting by the German artist Janaina Tschäpe.
“Your work lies somewhere between abstraction and landscape,” said Mr. Kelly of the 13-foot painting full of brightly colored markings.
He has participated in several digital trade shows since the beginning of the pandemic.
“These online trade shows are a reinforcement and a revelation,” said Kelly. “We are reminded that we are social beings. But just through digitization you can reach a much larger audience. “
He added, “We will see these hybrids in the future. It’s the best of both worlds. “
Striking sculptures from hundreds and even thousands of years are among the works that can be browsed by visitors to the fair.
The Rossi & Rossi gallery, located in Hong Kong and London, is showing a Tibetan Buddhist bronze, an 11-headed Avalokiteshvara figure from around 1400 with silver and copper inlays and set with semi-precious stones.
“It was most likely made for worship, for a temple,” said Fabio Rossi, who runs the gallery with his mother Anna Maria Rossi. “It’s big and great. You don’t see something like that too often. “
Mr Rossi said that in a perfect world he would prefer to be in the same room with collectors. However, he found that online trade shows can also act as a conversation starter that leads to a later sale.
“Especially when it comes to classic works, you need a dialogue and discussion with the client,” he says. “The customer wants to stand in front of it. But these are challenging times. We have to adapt. “
Charis Tyndall, a director of the Charles Ede Gallery in London, said that among her three works she would present a quartzite man’s head dating from around 1320-1292 BC. It was made during the 18th Dynasty of Egypt.
The votive sculpture shows an accomplished man, the commissioner of the piece, and on the reverse it begs the Pharaoh to ask two gods to take care of the man in the afterlife. (The mortals could not speak directly to the gods and used the god-descended Pharaoh as an intermediary.)
“This funeral request is a formula like the Lord’s Prayer,” said Ms. Tyndall. “The goal was to feast in the afterlife. The most frequent inquiries are bread and beer. “
She added, “I think you were right.”
The quality of the carving is unusually good, she said, and the sculpture has survived for more than 3,000 years without being defaced.
“The 18th Dynasty was the height of Egyptian art,” said Ms. Tyndall. “That’s as good as it gets.”
A piece of beauty that can also provide a window into a distant, ancient world is an example of the power of art that makes collectors like Mr Peters return to TEFAF and other art fairs online and in person.
In that sense, collecting is simply a more worthwhile type of investment.
“We love our paintings,” said Mr. Peters. “Instead of looking for anonymous bank account numbers, we enjoy these assets every day.”