This, the Dutch seemed to be saying, this is how you do an art fair.
What’s more, there were actual sales to be had, even in the opening hours, especially impressive given the fact that Old Master collectors are usually more likely to linger over potential purchases, rather than impulse-buy an ancient Greek bust, many dealers said. Sure, maybe exhibitors weren’t selling out their booths, but the feeling conveyed by each one was that a new iteration of TEFAF could offer something different in an overcrowded fair season, and the high turnout on a rainy Friday was just one of the reasons it appears this very European fair will work in New York City.
“My partner collects Old Masters—I collect more contemporary, but at a certain point, you can collect both,” Cooper said, while standing in front of the Mengs, which many at the fair recognized from its prominent inclusion in the Met Breur’s inaugural show, “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible”—the Duquesa’s face is blank, smeared off, giving the work a chilling postmodern feel.
When asked how he had time to come down from the CNN offices in the Time Warner Center, drop a few hundred grand on a painting, and then head back to work to film Anderson Cooper: 360 during the run-up to this election, he looked at his watch.
“I have to go back in like ten minutes, actually,” he said. “Really quick tour.”
(A source at CNN confirmed later that afternoon that Cooper had, in fact, returned to his desk shortly after.)
Elsewhere, Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts had sold a number of works in the opening minutes, including Edward Hopper’s Portrait of Guy Pene du Bois (1904) for $1.5 million. Like many of the works here at TEFAF, the provenance is key: Hopper had given the portrait to du Bois as a gift, and it stayed in the family until 2000.
Bernard Goldberg’s gallery manager, Ken Sims, said that the business been bowled over by the early buying, and the quality in general of this mini-Maastricht in the middle of Manhattan.
“People hear ‘Maastricht,’ and they’re like, The queen of them all!” Sims said. “And the Upper East Side is not a bad place for the best fair in the world.”
“I have never seen such a sophisticated group of visitors at any fair in New York,” Beatty said. “It really does feel like a small Maastricht in New York.”
As she was explaining how she was blown away by the number of collectors who had made the trek from other countries, up walked Paul Lang, the deputy director and chief curator of the National Gallery of Canada in Ontario. He came down just for the fair.
“It’s surprisingly good, and not that overwhelming,” Lang said. “And to be in the middle of a city! When you go to Maastricht you have to switch trains and wait for an hour in, like, Liège or something.”
Over at the Richard Green booth, which was filled with work by Pissarro, Sisley, and Renoir, the gallerist’s son Jonathan Green explained that they had made a few sales, though because it was so early in the day, he didn’t want to go into detail on them just yet.
“I’m on the board of TEFAF, and I’ve been pushing to expand to New York for years,” he said.
The fair also managed to extend the real estate of the Park Avenue Armory, which plays host to such grand picture bazaars as Spring Masters and the ADAA Art Fair. For TEFAF, they also got to inhabit historic parlor rooms on the second floor, where dealers could house their “booths” in actual hardwood rooms. Up there—once you dodged the lines for multiple Champagne bars and waiters zipping by with trays of hors d’oeuvres—antiques maven Axel Vervoordt could be found hawking Egyptian artifacts from the Ptolemaic period in one of the historic rooms, a room that already had a bunch of antiques permanently installed (albeit from the Civil War, not from 332 B.C.) And Paris’s Galerie Chenel had on offer Roman busts from the reign of Hadrian (about 117–138 A.D.) in the range of €30,000 (about $32,700) a pop. It also had a life-sized marble sculpture, Herakles Wearing the Nemean Lion’s Skin, that had been hidden away in storage for most of the last century.
Exactly what was the provenance of some of these more eccentric items? How exactly was Charles Ede selling items from the tomb of Ancient Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun for£1,200 ($1,470)? And what to make of the booth for Peter Finer—a gallery that specializes in antique arms and armament? Putting aside the appropriateness of once again bringing guns to a gun shed, it was unclear who in New York would be in the market for, say, an ancient Icelandic sword. A gallery representative insisted that they sell a lot of old daggers in New York, but at this new stateside edition of TEFAF, they had not yet sold anything. If you just really want to spend $95,000 on that the gallery terms “A Massive Two-Hand Bearing Sword of the City of Brunswick” (1570) get on up to the Park Avenue Armory.
TEFAF New York Fall runs through Wednesday, October 26.