2018 was the 17th successive year that I have had the pleasure of visiting TEFAF as an Art Historian supporting AXA ART’s activities as the event’s principal sponsor.
After such a long time you might suppose that new insights are be hard to find, but no so. I arrived earlier than normal and attended TEFAF during its setup to conduct a risk management assessment of the fair, which afforded an interesting insight into the complexity of construction and security for such a hugely complex event. A major feature of TEFAF is the fact that every object is submitted before a specialist vetting committee, (of which there are 32), so seeing the various vetting committees go about their work was fascinating. The vetting committees (including a Scientific Research Team), cover everything from Arms & Armour through Icons to Wallpaper but with an obvious focus on the classic collecting areas which define the fair; Dutch, Flemish & German Old Master Paintings. Made up of a couple of hundred leading academics, art historians, dealers and restorers the vetting committees meticulously examine each piece in the absence of the gallerist to ensure that it is what the dealer purports it to be.
The fair itself slowly evolves year by year and I felt that there was more sculpture on prominent display this edition, as demonstrated by Tomasso Brothers now having a stand on the principle avenue, located between Colnaghi and Richard Green. I loosely themed my guided tours on sculpture, but my favourite object was a contemporary Object Lux. Lignereux is a firm that was founded c. 1787 and was revived in 2015 to produce objects of extreme luxury. ‘Mighty Fountain’ 2017 reinterpreted the concept of an ormolu mounted celadon vase, it was 185,000 Euros with Adrian Sassoon. My favourite painting was a portrait of Lum A’Koa by Henri-Pierre Danloux painted in November 1793, with Galerie Sanct Lucas. This was a very sensitive and honest representation of a Cantonese merchant in France during the reign of terror. The provenance was also of interest having remained in the artist’s family until the 1860s, and a subsequent owner was the late Hubert de Givenchy. A particular pleasure during my tours was being able to show Willem Van Gogh, great grandnephew of the artist, two of the three Van Gogh oil paintings that were on offer at this year’s event.
TEFAF’s international reach was underlined by several groups visiting the Fair for the first time including that of a group of Taiwanese collectors which was arranged by AXA ART Hong Kong. The group enjoyed touring the fair over several days as well as visiting museums in Amsterdam and Brussels.
The AXA ART talk on Saturday 10th March at the AXA ART Lounge marked the end of my visit. Swiss entrepreneur Roman Koidl, CEO of fineartmultiple AG, moderated a roundtable discussion entitled ‘Art & Lifestyle’ – The Relationship between Art, Design and Lifestyle. The participants were Delphine Bellini, CEO at Elsa Schiaparelli SAS, and Audrey Wisnia, Head of Art Projects at Lalique S.A. Elsa Schiaparelli, (1890-1973) was an important twentieth century fashion designer who collaborated with contemporary artists of the period such as Dali, Man Ray and Cocteau in her haute couture designs. She is probably best remembered today as the inventor of the colour ‘shocking pink’. This heritage brand is being relaunched from its original archives in its former home in the Place Vendôme. Audrey discussed how Lalique, ‘The Symbol of French Luxury’, collaborates through its Arts Projects programme with contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst in producing a limited-edition range of coloured glass, in his trademark skulls and butterfly motifs.
Each year brings new collectors and new objects to TEFAF. It is constantly evolving and is an essential event to visit if you want to see the best art for sale in the world under one roof.