A gold bracelet formerly owned by Elizabeth Taylor and a Paul Gauguin still-life painting not seen in public since 1917 will be among $1.3 billion works of art to test demand at the world’s largest art and antiques fair.
A BMW (BMW) Le Mans racer decorated by Alexander Calder will also be on show — not for sale — at the European Fine Art Fair, Tefaf, which gets more than 70,000 visitors a year in the Dutch town of Maastricht. The event, owned and run by dealers with 261 of them taking part this year, holds its VIP preview tomorrow for its “silver jubilee” 25th edition.
Dealers are vying with auction houses to lure wealthy buyers as billionaires snap up museum-quality trophies and pass on lesser-quality works. Tefaf’s wealthy visitors, many of whom fly in on about 170 private planes, have recently included Silvio Berlusconi and Michael Schumacher.
“You get all the right people, like Sheikh Saud al Thani of Qatar,” Laszlo von Vertes, director of the Swiss gallery Salis & Vertes, who has been exhibiting at Tefaf for 20 years, said in an interview. “It’s amazing how the Dutch do it. Maastricht is a pretty boring place, yet the pilgrimage is made every year.”
Vertes will be offering mobile sculptures by Calder dating from 1974 and 1965, priced at 480,000 euros ($629,000) and 380,000 euros respectively. Near them will be a loan exhibition of the first-ever Art Car. The BMW-owned saloon, with jazzy paintwork designed by Calder, was driven by the French auctioneer Herve Poulain in the 1975 Le Mans 24-Hour race.
As the calendar of contemporary-art fairs becomes more crowded, Maastricht stands out as Europe’s biggest commercial event primarily devoted to older material. Its formal total of works on sale is put by organizers at 1 billion euros and spanning three millennia.
“It’s interesting that the two most durable fairs take place in relatively inaccessible locations,” said James Roundell, a director of Maastricht regulars Dickinson, referring to Tefaf and the Swiss modern and contemporary event, Art Basel. The latter’s June edition will be the 43rd. “People have to make the effort to come, and once they do, they spend time at the fair. They’re not distracted.”
London-based Dickinson offers high-value works on consignment including a 1888 Gauguin painting “Nature morte a la ceramique” — featuring a stoneware bowl designed by the artist himself — tagged at $7 million, and the 1883 Vincent van Gogh oil-on-paper “The Potato Diggers,” a transitional work painted in the Hague, valued at $3.75 million.
Though Tefaf, like Art Basel, is a byword for quality, it faces challenges, such as the general migration of collectors from traditional to contemporary art, dealers said. Last year, the mood at the event was subdued on account of the Japanese tsunami. The Dutch authorities’ decision to raise the sales taxfor local buyers of works imported from outside the European Union from 6 percent to 19 percent also inhibited spending.
“The tax regime hasn’t been helpful,” said the New York- based Old Master dealer Otto Naumann. “I’ve suggested the fair move to Brussels and more than 20 exhibitors have said that’s a great idea.”
Last year Naumann showed pictures at Tefaf ranging in price from $12 million to $47 million. Nothing sold on the booth at the fair. This year the dealer will show 35 paintings ranging from $65,000 to $2.5 million.
“I’m going to plaster the walls,” Naumann said. “It’s difficult to sell really high-value paintings at fairs, though a lot of things do get bought between $1 million to $5 million.”
Founder exhibitor — and member of the board of trustees — Johnny van Haeften said that Tefaf won’t be moving from Maastricht any time soon.
“It’s the last thing we want,” the London-based Old- Master dealer van Haeften said. “We’re making it clear to the Dutch authorities that raising the tax kills off the home market and they’ll get less income as a result. Their receipts certainly collapsed last year.”
Van Haeften bought “A Young Lady playing the Virginal,” a painting by the 17th century Dutch artist Gerrit Dou, at Christie’s International (CHRS), New York, in January. The luminous — and now cleaned — panel is being offered for about 4 million pounds ($6.3 million) at the fair. It will incur a 19 percent sales tax if bought by a collector from the Netherlands.
London-based dealer Didier, who specializes in artist- designed jewelry, is making his debut in the Showcase section of the event. He snapped up a unique and unrecognized 18-carat gold acrobat bracelet by the British sculptor Michael Ayrton in the Elizabeth Taylor Collection auction in December. He’ll be offering it for 65,000 pounds.