The review was held “to ensure we remain the most trusted sales platform within the international marketplace” according to Nanne Dekking, chairman of the TEFAF board of trustees.
The new policy will be applied to TEFAF Maastricht for the first time at the 2019 edition of the fair. The effect of the change, if any, won’t be felt for some time. It is unlikely to lead to a significant change in buying at the event this year.
In the past few months ATG has canvassed a range of opinions on this topic. Here we present a summary of them (see ATG Nos 2369 and 2371).
James Ratcliffe, The Art Loss Register
"While many in the trade undoubtedly have vast knowledge of their field, the point has come where they should no longer be present on vetting committees. The conflict of interest, real or perceived, is too great for a fair to risk. What gives a dealer the right to determine whether the pieces exhibited at a fair by a competitor, not represented on the committee, should remain on sale or not?
They may not have control over what is vetted off their own stand, but in making decisions about the stands of others they are well aware of what they themselves have brought to sell. Even where a dealer is not exhibiting at the fair they vet the potential for a conflict of interest to arise is apparent.
Many dealers are indeed great experts and should be celebrated as such, but the appropriate forum for that expertise is their own stands, not determining what can and cannot be exhibited at a fair by their commercial rivals.
Tobias Jellinek, dealer
Although a sprinkling of academics would be useful, if not essential, specialist dealers who have spent their lives handling, studying, examining and – not least – risking their own money on their purchases will without doubt have a wider and deeper understanding.
However, it is clearly undesirable for dealers within the fairs to be part of vetting committees. I believe expecting fellow exhibitors to judge each others’ exhibits totally dispassionately is demanding a little too much from humanity.
Alastair Dickenson, silver dealer
I am staggered at the naivety of TEFAF in removing all dealers from vetting. Dealers generally have the best insight about the condition of an object as they spend a lot of their lives looking at auctions and other dealers’ stock. They handle a huge quantity and variety of antiques which puts them in the best position to judge.
It is up to the particular heads of individual committees to ensure that no undue pressure is exerted by any individual of that committee. In my experience it was a very democratic process, all the more so as most members were a mixture of dealers, academics and restorers.
John Robertson, picture dealer
In one sense, TEFAF’s decision is an extraordinary one. Compared to a dealer who has been buying and selling for 30 or 40 years, museum curators and academics won’t necessarily recognise [rediscovered or emerging] artists’ work, their handling of paint, tonality or draughtsmanship.
Yet in other ways I can understand where TEFAF is coming from. We are all aware of the rising litigiousness in the art market and commercial rivalries in the trade.
I’m also conscious we are moving into an era when fewer dealers have had the privilege of handling the quantity of work that my generation did.
It’s a different world and the TEFAF decision on vetting reflects that.
Cristian Beadman, head of European sculpture and works of art, Dreweatts
I would never doubt the knowledge of a museum curator or specialist but they simply don’t see the sheer volume and turnover of objects that auctioneers and dealers do. And I would also suggest that they do not see the reproductions and fakes in any real quantity either.
That said, I can see the perceived or potential conflict of interest when you have commercial vetters. Overall, I understand why TEFAF might do this but a vetting committee without the trade simply cannot be such a thorough process.
Martin Levy, H Blairman & Sons
In my experience, the process depends on a variety of skills.
Museum expertise is recognised as bringing huge value to judgments about attribution and context.
Seasoned representatives of auction houses and the trade bring expertise from seeing and, importantly, handling, multiple objects in their fields, on a daily basis.
Vetting, which is undertaken to protect the buying public, should depend on the combined expertise of all these interdependent groups.