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Starting this year, TEFAF Maastricht has two, rather than one, VIP preview days.

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The TEFAF brand, which turns 31 this year, hasn’t stood still in recent years as it makes strides to go global. At the same time, it must maintain its status as the world’s premier art and antiques event.

This year, the shift in emphasis for organisers of the brand’s mothership event, TEFAF Maastricht, was around the event’s exclusivity, leading to a change in the fair’s opening policy. In what was initially a contentious move, the fair now has two, rather than one VIP preview days, with the first day open only to exhibitors’ choice of top clients.

Nanne Dekking, the chairman of TEFAF’s board of trustees, said exhibitors – tired of party loving, non-buyers crowding out real purchasers on the former single preview day – supported this change.

Tricky decisions

A new ticketing system required exhibitors to divide their clients into two tiers which understandably, hasn’t been met with universal approval. After all, how do you face a collector the day after you have excluded them from an event?

The fair opened on March 8 (ending on March 18) with an ‘Early Access Day’. Each exhibitor was allotted 10 VIP tickets with the possibility of buying 50 more ‘admit two’ tickets. They were apportioned more for the ‘Preview Day’ on the Friday (March 9).

Chinese porcelain dealer Jorge Welsh told ATG that choosing which clients to invite “was very difficult. You can’t please everybody and I personally prefer the old system. TEFAF is still fantastic, but it has been difficult to manage this new system.”

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Jorge Welsh sold this Chinese Ming dynasty, hexagonal salt cellar, made of porcelain and decorated in underglaze cobalt blue at TEFAF Maastricht. Produced during the c.1600 Wanli period (1573-1619), it is 14.6cm high by 13.5cm long.

Uncomfortable though the task was, Old Master dealer Charles Beddington said making the opening day more exclusive made it “more manageable”.

According to dealer Lawrence Steigrad, of New York’s Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts, the new policy is “a genius idea. People came for the art, not for the beer. It was great.”

Anthony Meyer of Paris Oceanic and Eskimo Art dealership Galerie Meyer had been “fundamentally against” the change in opening policy but was happy to revise this opinion. “I was extremely pleased with the turnout and the attitude of the people,” he said. “The flow of serious collectors was non-stop and we had regular sales throughout the day. It was much better than expected – better than the last two years.”

Narrowed aisles and a darker overall look to the 2018 fair lent an air of intimacy and put the emphasis on the stands. Many exhibitors found themselves moved to new locations, often with different dimensions, requiring them to re-think their stand designs.

The noticeably thinner crowds on the opening day allowed for easier conversations with committed collectors, exhibitors said, with serious sales taking place on both days (see box, above right). It felt, according to Carlo Orsi of Trinity Fine Art, like “fresh air” had been injected into the event.

A vote for Maastricht

Daisy Prevost-Marcilhacy of De Jonckheere agreed. “You need changes to make things feel fresh and stop people from getting bored with the event,” she said.

That scenario may have partly prompted calls in recent years to move the event from out-of-the-way Maastricht to Amsterdam or Paris. The ‘remainers’ won the argument, however, and organisers committed to another 10 years in the southern Dutch town, on the promise of renovation and extension of the congress centre MECC Maastricht and transport improvements.

To compete in an ever-more crowded sector, and to cater for the rise of eclectic collecting, the fair has continued to involve contemporary, modern and design specialists. “We are a contemporary art gallery and we are happy to be here at TEFAF,” Chiara Conte, associate director at Milan dealer Massimo De Carlo, said. “It is our first year, so it is early to give an opinion, but so far, so good. We like this fair as it offers a new clientele.”

Opinion on the presence of contemporary is divided, however, with a fear that TEFAF Maastricht “ends up being a top-quality Old Master fair with a second-rate contemporary fair on the side,” as one visitor put it to ATG last week.

Wide appeal

But London dealer Alon Zakaim Fine Art said that having contemporary at the fair “makes it more relevant. The fair should appeal to clients of all ages and all tastes.”

“Participating dealers were tired of party loving non-buyers crowding out real collectors

So, with all of 2018’s changes, is the event still attracting the best collectors and clients, in as much as one can judge from the event’s opening days? One Old Master dealer said the fair lacked the buzz of previous years and feared fewer collectors had made the effort to travel to the small European city.

As with all fair reviews, feedback depends on who you talk to. St James’s tapestry dealership S Franses became one of TEFAF Maastricht’s 275 exhibitors for the first time this year, joining 15 other newbies. “We have had a great first two days,” Simon Franses told ATG. “Many museums and institutions came and talked to us about our pieces.”

Sydney L. Moss director Oliver Moss, at TEFAF Maastricht for the third time, noted the presence of American buyers despite the launch of TEFAF New York in 2016. “And there are many museums who still visit TEFAF,” he said. “There isn’t really anywhere that offers the variety and number of dealers – the breadth and depth – that TEFAF Maastricht provides.”

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This year’s TEFAF Maastricht introduced a new ticketing system.

Despite the increasingly restrictive trading environment for antique ivory, ATG noted a number of ivory objects on display and sold during the first two days of the fair. Stand out ivory sales included that to a private collector of the 17th century ivory carved German Baroque ‘Bulgari Clock’ by Galerie J. Kugel from Paris, and dealer Charles Ede’s sale of a Roman, carved ivory relief, depicting a Bacchic scene which had a price tag of €110,000.

Some noted that formerly large groups of museum trustees and curators were smaller this year – an unwelcome trend (if it is such) for an event that prides itself on its cultural as well commercial cachet.

Ultimately, 12,000 visitors attended throughout the first two days, with 5000 on Thursday – attendance levels vital to help organisers create in their words an “optimal buying platform” in line with dealers’ requests.

“It doesn’t matter how you engineer the fair,” Johnny Yarker from London dealer Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker concludes. “It’s great that the organisers continue to innovate, but this remains an unrivalled fair in all its areas.”

Five sales at TEFAF

As ATG toured the floor of TEFAF Maastricht 2018, dealers reported early sales taking place, five of are featured here.

ATG's fully updated TEFAF sales list