Last week, the first online edition of the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) opened to clients following the fair organizer’s announcement in July that its fall New York in-person fair, historically held at the Park Avenue Armory, would be canceled due to pandemic restrictions. Some 298 galleries took part in the fair’s debut online iteration, which closes out its run today, with each exhibitor showcasing just one masterwork.
TEFAF is among the global art fairs that was hit hard by the onslaught of the pandemic. Its last edition, TEFAF Maastricht, was closed early this past March after several attendees tested positive for the coronavirus. Since then, digital art fairs have taken hold, and TEFAF’s one-item “masterpiece” format, first announced in September, was meant in part to fight online viewing room fatigue. Mimicking auction house vanity catalogues used to promote sale highlights, the single-object restriction allows for each work to stand out among hundreds of offerings.
The new online fair featured various digital frills, including a live-chat function and virtual programming. Known for its strict standards, TEFAF also incorporated a vetting profile, with each object on offer checked against the Art Loss Register, a private database for stolen art.
In the past, live editions of global art fairs have typically yielded a flood of sales secured on the opening day. But, at a digital fair like TEFAF’s latest edition, sales are announced at a much slower pace. “Because of TEFAF’s large institutional following, with global museum curators, directors and acquisition groups, some negotiations are ongoing, and business is often concluded in the weeks and months after the fair,” said a representative from TEFAF in a statement.
Though several dealers were still in the midst of fielding inquiries from interested buyers, one landed a major sale early on. The New York–based Di Donna Galleries sold Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi’s canvas Interior with a Woman Standing (1913) to a private European collector for $5 million during TEFAF’s VIP preview, making it one of the most expensive works on offer.
Describing the work as “a rare example of the boldly modern interior scenes that Hammershøi painted towards the end of his life,” gallery director Jeremiah Evarts detailed how the team carved out a strategy for selling the painting. “We specifically wanted to re-contextualize the discussion around the artist—he is often venerated as an inheritor of the tradition of Dutch genre painting, specifically Vermeer, but we wanted to point out the bold modernism in a late work such as this and its relationship to minimalism in 20th-century American art, such as the work of Agnes Martin and Mark Rothko,” said Evarts.
In June 2005, the seller purchased the present work at Sotheby’s London for £388,800 ($702,300) with premium, and during its 15-year holding period the work has seen an 612 percent increase in value. The artist’s current record moved up to $6.2 million when another interior depicting a woman sitting at a piano from 1901 sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2017. The TEFAF sale marks the third-highest price paid for a work by the Danish artist.
Another dealer found success with enhanced visuals commissioned for the online showcase. London-based antiquities dealer ArtAncient tapped a design firm to create a VR clip of its offering: a late Hellenistic marble bust of Hercules. Yesterday, the dealer reported selling the sculpture for a price in the seven figures. The gallery purchased the bust in February at Adam Partridge Auctioneers in Macclesfield, Cheshire. It had been unearthed by a landscaper in the early 1980s at the U.K. property of collector Stanley Seeger for £320,000 (with fees), according to the Art Newspaper. Elsewhere in the fair, Netherlands-based Endlich Antiquairs sold an ornate 17th-century silver Dutch book cover for a price around $50,000.
London’s Colnaghi gallery reported fielding interest from American institutions, as well as U.S. and European collectors, for a late 16th-century Roman pietra dura tabletop. “For 2020, TEFAF NY Online’s format of focusing on a single masterpiece has enabled us to create a high-quality marketing campaign, showcasing the history and rarity of one artwork in an undiluted manner,” said Colnaghi’s CEOs, Victoria Golembiovskaya and Jorge Coll, in a statement to ARTnews. This year, the dealer commissioned a video highlighting the pietra dura technique to promote the object. “This has enabled us to reach new audiences around the world, and has already drawn sales enquiries from global public institutions,” said Colnaghi’s representatives. The dealer did not disclose the exact listing price of the item, but according to the TEFAF online site, the item is categorized among those priced above $1 million.
New York dealer Skarstedt Gallery reported strong interest for Eric Fischl’s 1981 painting A Woman Possessed, which depicts a woman sprawled out on a driveway and was formerly in the collection of Miami’s Irma and Norman Braman. The gallery did not disclose the listing price, only confirming that it was seven figures. On the fair’s second day, Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska reported being in negotiations with a buyer for Fernand Léger’s abstract painting Nature morte au compas (1929), featuring a black, red, white and blue palette. And Hostler Burrows, a dealer focused on 20th century design with locations in New York and Los Angeles, sold Norwegian ceramist Torbjørn Kvasbø’s large scale red sculpture Stack (Red Glazed), 2014, for an undisclosed price. The work was listed at $34,000.
Polly Sartori, cofounder of Los Angeles’s Gallery 19C, described the single-work format as an effective method for engaging clients. “It is one thing to browse through a booth with 10 or 20 items at a live fair, and it’s another to browse through nearly 300 online booths with multiple items,” said Sartori. “In a way, the ‘masterpiece’ also functions as an amuse bouche.” Sartori reported the gallery received a number of serious inquiries from private individuals and museums for Jean Pierre Alexandre Antigna’s Young peasant girl (Une jeune fille des champs), from 1852, priced at $115,000. As with most live fairs, Sartori said, “I think we will see serious follow up once the fair concludes.”
Sartori was not alone in praising TEFAF’s format. Almine Rech was presenting a single work by abstract painter Vivian Springford, who is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at the dealer’s New York location. Though a price for the work was not confirmed at press time, Ethan Buchsbaum, senior director of Almine Rech gallery’s North American operations, said the gallery had seen solid interest in it because of the way TEFAF was structured this time. He said, “In the context of digital presentations, there is a unique benefit to focusing on a single work—the format lends itself to a digestible experience for audiences and collectors that encourages close engagement.”