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TEFAF Tees Off

12-03-2010 om 10:54 by Maastricht Region Branding Foundation

MAASTRICHT, The Netherlands—The 23rd edition of TEFAF, also known as the European Fine Art Fair, staged its gala opening this afternoon amid a din of popping champagne corks and the flashing movements of oyster-shuckers, who strolled through the crowds of well-appointed Europeans previewing the wares of 263 galleries.
Suddenly, there was drama. All the lights went out in the massive hall. Gallerists pleaded for visitors marooned in their darkened stands to stay still as fairgoers opened their cell phones and PDAs for a bit of impromptu lighting, giving the enormous hall the atmosphere of a candle-lit vigil. Soon, though, the lights returned. “Now we have to find out what was stolen,” joked a woman sipping champagne.

The lighting failure, which put many in mind of the daring jewelry heist during the vernissage here two years ago, proved to be the chief excitement of the night. There were relatively few sales.

As a small crowd gathered in front of London gallery Simon Dickinson's stand to ogle the late Paul Gauguin's Deux Femmes (or La Chevelure Fleurie), which was painted in the Marquesas Islands in 1902 — a year before the artist’s death — and was priced in the region of $25 million. The painting the gallery sold, however, was a petite oil on panel, St. Dominic and St. Peter of Verona, by the Master of the Blumenthal Passion, circa 1520, for $165,000.

Such is the wild range of art and decorative art history that TEFAF offers, all of it liberally mixed with art-market factors. Dickinson, for example, boldly displayed the previous auction price for the Gauguin in the glossy catalogue dedicated to the painting, revealing it had fetched £12,328,000 ($21,935,943) when it sold at Christie’s London in February 2006. “It’s a pretty, bloody good picture,” said Dickinson partner James Roundell, “and it’s very buyable at that level.” Roundell, like most of the dealers buttonholed for commentary in the 90-minute window reserved for journalists before the big spenders arrived at noon, spoke optimistically about the new mood.

TEFAF runs through March 21 and qualifies as the longest art fair, giving sophisticated tire-kickers plenty of time to view and then mull over their choices. “The objects are more expensive here, so it takes a little bit longer for people to think about it,” said Dusseldorf private dealer Jorg Bertz, one of modern experts and part of the 26 teams of "vetters" who inspect all the works at TEFAF for authenticity before the fair opens, in what make for nail-biting sessions.

One anonymous buyer wasn’t wasting any time, snapping up Clive Head’s photo-realist oil painting of a South Kensington cafe, Coffee at the Cottage Delight, at London’s Marlborough Gallery for £120,000. "Usually, the second day is better for us," said gallery owner Gilbert Lloyd, "people are more concentrated." The red dot affixed to the Head painting was one of the rare sale markers spotted in the first go-round, joining, of course, the green dot at Dickinson’s stand for the Master of the Blumenthal Passion. Apparently Dickinson prefers that color.

A few more opening bell sales took place at New York/London/Zurich Hauser & Wirth as Eva Hesse's expressionist painting, No Title from 1960, at 36-by-36 inches, sold for $750,000 and Berlinde de Bruyckere's Untitled figurative sculpture of an impaled male torso from 2010 in wax, epoxy and wood sold for €170,000. On a smaller scale, Suboyd Gupta's 2009 black bronze, Et tu, Duchamp, from an edition of 10 plus two artist proofs sold for €120,000. "It's only the first day," enthused gallery partner Iwan Wirth.

In past years, there has been a cornucopia of Alberto Giacometti sculptures at TEFAF, but this round, the range has dwindled — as if the $104 million price paid at Sotheby’s London last month for Walking Man I froze his market as owners try to figure out what the new price levels are. Montreal’s Landau Fine Arts was the exception, offering a beautiful lifetime cast bronze, Trois Hommes Qui Marchent, 1948-50, in a brown and gold patina, for $25 million. The Landaus acquired the Giacometti at Christie’s New York in November 2008 for $11,506,500, a price dealer Alice Landau said, “you shouldn’t count.” That bleak moment in the art market was a lucky one for the prescient Landaus, and that formerly dark mood is only now lifting.

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