TEFAF 2020: 7,000 years of art history in 7,000 seconds (don’t worry, we did the maths — that’s just under 2 hours)
From an Anatolian idol to images of the Cern nuclear research facility via Flemish and Italian Old Masters — a whistlestop tour arranged, for your convenience, in chronological order
For 2020, The European Fine Art Fair — or TEFAF (7-15 March) — in Maastricht has a new tagline: ‘Experience 7,000 years of art history’. To put that claim to the test we’ve mapped out a tour of some of this year’s highlights which covers that timeline, from start to finish, in 7,000 seconds — or just over 116 minutes. A note of warning: this itinerary requires serious stamina.
7,000 BC to the 1st century BC: spend 15 minutes in the Ancient Art section
Maastricht’s Exhibition & Conference Centre covers 30,000 square metres, and has been home to TEFAF since 1988. This year 275 dealers from 20 different countries will compete for the attention of collectors. It pays to be prepared, which we are, so after entering the building, take a right after the cloak room, then the fourth and final left. This leads you to the Ancient Art section, which is where our journey through 7,000 years of art history begins.
Galerie David Ghezelbash (425) has possibly the oldest work at the fair (excluding fossils) — a 7,000-year-old black steatite idol figure from Neolithic Anatolia. This curvaceous female (below, left) sits cross-legged and hides her modesty with her hands. It is thought she represents an ancient fertility goddess from a time that pre-dates the written word.
Moving next door, we jump forward 3,000 years with Galerie Kevorkian (432), which has a mysterious miniature bronze model of an acrobat atop a ladder. It was made during the second millennium BC in Luristan, which is in modern-day Iran.
Opposite is antiquities dealer Charles Ede (426). ‘TEFAF is without doubt still the best art fair in the world,’ says Martin Clist, the gallery’s director. ‘Many others try to steal its crown… but dealers save up their best pieces to launch here.’
Among the reliefs and statues on show with Charles Ede is an ancient Greek ‘eye-cup’ from 530 BC. Decorated with nude athletes and satyrs, it’s inscribed with what Clist says is ‘essentially a pick-up line from an older man to a younger man, along the lines of “Hi there beautiful boy.”’ This intriguing ceramic carries a price tag of £80,000.
Nearby, Kallos Gallery (434) has a beautiful 1st-century BC Roman ring engraved with the head of Dionysus. ‘Although the world of ancient art isn’t something you’d normally associate with trends, these gems are more popular than ever, particularly among jewellery designers and new collectors,’ says Christie’s antiquities specialist Claudio Corsi. ‘The 2019 sale of the Sangiorgi Collection of ancient gems at Christie’s played an important role in this upswing.’
From 8th-century China to 17th-century Japan: spend 25 minutes in the Antiques area
Heading west into the Antiques section of the fair, we arrive at Gisèle Cröes (180), which has a set of six beautifully preserved earthenware female court musicians from China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907), while Gregg Baker (260) is showing an almost metre-high gilt-wood Buddha statue from the Japanese Kamakura Period (1185-1333).
Just across the way, Mullany (157) is presenting a superb French medieval gilt limestone statue of the enthroned Virgin and Child made in around 1330.
Next door, Galerie Jean-Christophe Charbonnier (184), specialists in Japanese historical arms and armour, has a menacing iron, leather, silk and silver lacquer warrior’s outfit from the 17th century that shouldn’t be missed.
Back to 17th-century Europe: your first visit to Paintings, returning to Antiques, covering around 25 minutes
Heading north towards the Paintings section, Fondantico di Tiziana Sassoli (372) has a striking picture of Saint Paul from 1612 painted by Lucio Massari, while Galerie Terrades (337) is showing a portrait of St. John by Jusepe Leonardo from circa 1635-40. Comparing these Spanish and Italian paintings makes for an interesting exercise in art history.
Still in the Paintings section, Robilant + Voena (380) will be hanging Allegory of Touch by the Flemish painter Michiel Sweerts (1618-1664) between sculptures and paintings by Lucio Fontana from the 1950s and ’60s.
The recently rediscovered painting, below, depicts a young man, captured in what the gallery’s director Benedict Tomlinson calls ‘a moment of pure stupefaction’. It was painted sometime around the mid-1650s before the artist joined a missionary organisation, Missions Etrangères, with which he travelled to Palestine and then Persia.
A short stroll back south brings you back into the Antiques section, to one of the more niche booths at TEFAF — Tóth-Ikonen (244), Netherlandish dealers in Russian religious icons.
On show is an intensely cropped late-17th-century Eastern Orthodox Deesis, showing Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and a particularly ragged-looking Saint John the Baptist. It would originally have been prayed to by those seeking forgiveness and a merciful judgement. Today, it’s valued at €35,000.
Nearby, Salomon Lilian (309) is representing the Dutch Golden Age with Jan Steen’s entertaining Merry Company in an Inn from the second half of the 17th century.
On to the 18th century: squeeze in 5 minutes’ looking at sculpture
Circling back past the Restaurant La Concorde (which offers fine dining from midday) you’ll find Daniel Katz (100), which has dedicated the entirety of its booth to Neoclassical sculptures. Among them is a pair of busts by Jean Antoine Houdon (1741-1828).
Christie’s Early European Sculpture & Works of Art specialist Milo Dickinson, who has been making the annual pilgrimage to Maastricht for TEFAF since he was 19, thinks this pair are a must-see, noting the ‘extraordinary skill required to produce such vitality on such a small scale.’
Tom Davies, the director of Daniel Katz, says he rates TEFAF so highly because it’s the fair ‘best attended by museums’, as well as ‘refreshingly young collectors’.
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Racing through to the 19th century: 10 minutes with a Van Gogh and the ‘Spanish Master of Light’
Directly opposite is Simon Dickinson (402). Among works by Picasso and Rodin is a large, charming picture of a farmhouse by Vincent van Gogh — undoubtedly one of this year’s fair highlights. The painting was picked up in junk shop in north London in the 1960s for £45, where the seller had assumed it was by an artist with the surname ‘Vincent’.
Next, head southeast to López de Aragón (175) to see a large carnival scene painted in 1893 by the Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla, who was recently dubbed the ‘Spanish Master of Light’ in a solo show at the National Gallery in London.
Modern art, starting in the 1950s: reckon on a quarter of an hour
Walking due north brings you to the 57 galleries of Modern Art, which until a decade ago was largely overlooked at TEFAF.
Galerie Karsten Greve (414) has two spectacular all-white Manzoni works from 1959-60 and 1962, while The Mayor Gallery (451) provides surely one of the fair’s Instagram hits — Pop artist Jan Haworth’s 1967 sculpture of an old lady knitting in a rocking chair.
Galleria Continua (502), which has outposts in Italy, France, China and Cuba, is a newcomer to the fair this year, exhibiting a solo booth of sitting, squatting and standing sculptures by Antony Gormley from his 2011-12 series ‘MASSIVE BLOCKWORKS’.
Mario Cristiani, Galleria Continua’s co-founder, says it chose to exhibit only Gormley because ‘he is an artist who is in dialogue with the art of every time and knows how to occupy the space of a huge collection’.
Let’s not forget Design: worth 5 minutes
Further north still is the design section of the fair. Loic Gaillard, co-founder of Carpenters Workshop Gallery (609), explains why it is making its debut this year: ‘TEFAF is the cross-collecting fair — and we will give it a contemporary edge.’
Among ‘functional sculptures’ by Nacho Carbonell, Maarten Baas and Vincent Dubourg is a brilliantly carved ash-wood chair by Wendell Castle from 2014.
You’ll want to stop by Works on Paper, too: a good 10 minutes
A hike to the the fair’s south-west corner and up a flight of stairs brings you to the Works on Paper section. Among the 24 exhibitors is Galleri K (718), which has brought a monumental inkjet print of the Cern nuclear research facility taken by the German photographer Thomas Struth.
And to finish, the Showcase section: using up the last 400 seconds of your allotted 7,000
Finally, hotfoot to the south-east corner of the fair where the Showcase section sees TEFAF supporting five up-and-coming galleries. One of this year’s selections, TAFETA (SC3), is showing some hyperrealist pastel on paper portraits by self-taught African artist Babajide Olatunji.
And that brings us to the present moment. If there’s still a bit of gas in your tank, we suggest you take a short train ride to Amsterdam for Caravaggio-Bernini. Baroque in Rome at the Rijksmuseum (until 7 June) or to Ghent to see Jan Eyck: An Optical Revolution (until 30 April) at the city’s Museum of Fine Art. Both are among this year’s must-see exhibitions.