Insights from Ray Waterhouse on TEFAF New York Fall

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Last Wednesday, October 26th saw the first fair run by The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) come to an end in New York, after a five day run. The reaction from visitors and exhibitors was very positive. TEFAF’s fair in Maastricht, which has run for 29 years, has long been the quality benchmark for all art fairs. One important factor that sets Maastricht apart is the vast range of very high quality works on offer across the fine art and decorative art spectrum; ‘museum quality’ is an overused term, but for Maastricht it is completely relevant. Another factor is the stringent vetting, which takes two days and involves a large number of museum curators and top specialists in their fields.

TEFAF New York largely matched the quality of Maastricht, but two essential parts of the European version could not be emulated – the length of the fair and the size. The Maastricht fair spans eleven days and takes place in a vast exhibition centre allowing about 300 exhibitors. It is a true destination fair. Park Avenue’s Armory is not suitable for a long fair and could only accommodate 93 exhibitors and in much smaller booths than at the European version.

The NY organizers made a big effort in transforming the austere Armory, allegedly spending $2m on decoration and booth fitting. But the difference between the vast spaces of Maastricht, which allow extravagant decoration and large booths, was very noticeable. The NY fair did open up the second floor which allowed visitors to experience about 12 rooms taken by exhibitors, mainly old master dealers, who could create complete room settings and these were a great success.

The best booths in my field of fine art were in my opinion:
Agnews, recently reinvented under the directorship of Anthony Crichton-Stuart, for its display of a private collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
Richard Feigen, for both the art on display and the inventive booth design.
Richard Green, for exceptional paintings from Old Masters to Impressionists, but perhaps not displayed very inventively.
Jack Kilgore, for his blend of quirkiness and quality and range of prices.
Menconi + Schoelkopf, for an extraordinary selection of late 19th and early 20th century American paintings.
Erik Thomsen, for his unique selection of Japanese art.

Jack Kilgore & Co's stand

My view was that the fair lived up to expectations, and exhibitors and visitors were pleased overall. I asked for quotes from a few dealers and they all came back with standard lines about ‘meeting many museum curators and good new clients and expecting sales follow-ups.’ I don’t believe sales overall were strong, but there was good activity and Jack Kilgore for sure sold many works. I suspect that other US fairs and especially those at the Armory will seem weak if one is looking for museum quality works. But let’s face it, ultra high value works are the preserve of a very few buyers, and while other fairs might be influenced by the general appearance of TEFAF NY, the variety on offer at other fairs has more general appeal for most buyers, and perhaps even a little more soul.

Ray Waterhouse: rbw@fineartbrokers.com, +1 212 717 9100

Richard L. Feigen & Co's stand