Fair view of TEFAF 2014.

- Old Master pictures are synonymous with TEFAF, but they have plenty of company at the fair. The fair billboards around town trumpet one of TEFAF’s themes – that traditional works of art can co-exist with the modern, and that the approach to collecting and decoration today integrates objects from a range of periods and places. 

Alexander Calder’s 25-foot high stabile/mobile Janey Waney (offered for $20 million at Van de Weghe Fine Art, of New York) towered over the entrance to an elegant pop-up restaurant. Designed by the Dutch architect Tom Postma, the space was demarcated with delicate floor-to-ceiling aluminum columns evoking the Wiener Werkstaette and lined with wall-sized photographs of sculptures from La Place de la Concorde in Paris.  The caption for the discreet mix of motifs could have been “one-stop shopping.”

Wishful thinking? Evidence of a crossover between classic and contemporary was at Rossi & Rossi of Hong Kong and London, where the Mongolian bronze figures of Vajrasattva and his consort, Shakti, priced at $1.5 million, sold to an American collector.

Tenzing Rigdol's Afloat at Rossi & Rossi.

On the wall behind that late 17th - early 18th-century bronze ensemble was Afloat, a collage of a four-armed seated Buddha (bodhisattva, or Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion and the deity of which the Dalai Lama is believed to be a manifestation) by the contemporary Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol, who is based in New York. The price for the first sale of this new work was $32,000.

Across the corridor, Tomasso Brothers of Leeds and London promotes the classical/modern crossover more intensely. A Damian Hirst sheep encased in a tank of formaldehyde (its brown fur matching the shadowy tone of the booth that also sold baroque bronzes) was offered at around $3 million, and a few days into the fair, still unsold. The dealer was selling three other works by the British artist, who is said to have done some of his own shopping while at the fair.

Damien Hirst's sheep encased in a tank of formaldehyde at Tomasso Brothers.

And, as always, tulips were everywhere, including outdoors, given the unseasonably warm temperatures.

Asking prices were also warming up, defying the findings of an annual art market study commissioned by TEFAF from the Irish economist Clare McAndrew that sales in Europe had declined by 2% over the last year and that Old Masters sales were down 10 percent worldwide.

At the first booth heading in, Dickinson Roundell of London is offering Moulin de la Galette, painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1887 and which had not been on public view since 1965. The asking price is upwards of $18 million. As of the first weekend of the fair, the picture (which according to TEFAF, belonged to an American millionaire who had been Ian Fleming’s inspiration for the character of Goldfinger in the James Bond novel) had attracted endless snapshots, but not yet a buyer. A pair of wooden shoes carved (and worn) by van Gogh’s pal and peer Paul Gauguin in 1890, also at Dickinson Roundell, was on view next to the van Gogh windmill scene, unsold at €400,000.

In that same $18 million range as the van Gogh was a gleaming emerald-cut diamond that packed onlookers into the stand of Graff Diamonds. Jewelry (necklaces and a bracelet) and a transparent shawl are the only things worn by the grim yet surprisingly serene Lucrecia (after 1537) by Lucas Cranach the Younger, offered at Weiss Gallery of London. The nude of Lucrecia de Borgia holding a dagger to her chest sold for €2 million.

Installation view of TEFAF 2014.

TEFAF regular Otto Naumann of New York was offering The Supper at Emmaus, a dramatic New Testament scene by the Venetian baroque painter Bernardo Strozzi for $3.5 million. Naumann acknowledges that he bought the painting at auction in London in December for around $1.5 million, and insisted his asking price wasn’t unreasonable – “Not for the best baroque painting that’s been at the fair in years.” 

“I never ask for a profit like this, but that painting was as dark as this floor,” he says, pointing to the carpet in his booth. “Nobody even dared bid on it. I took a super-reckless risk, because you can’t tell how a painting’s going to clean when it’s that dirty.”

Photography is not heavily represented at TEFAF, but the vintage dealer Hans P. Kraus Jr.  specializes in the Old Masters of the relatively young medium. New to many roaming the fair’s corridors were camera lucida drawings that Kraus showed by one of the inventors of photography, Sir John Herschel (1792–1870), in which Herschel made precise pencil tracings (sometimes with added refinements) of images reflected by a set of mirrors. Simple in some scenes and densely precise in others, the drawings executed between 1816 and 1860 and while not photographs, span the prehistory and the early decades of the medium. Three of the fifteen works were sold the first day. Unsold, at $95,000, is Stone Henge, a magical proto-cartoon of the ruins made in 1865, when Herschel was 73.  Unlike 17th-century painters, who kept any use of optical aids secret, Herschel defended the scientific benefits of the camera lucida.   

Sir John Herschel's Stone Henge.

More recent history was on view at Sperone Westwater, in the form of a mechanical construction of found metal elements, Radio No. 1 (1960), by the Swiss bricoleur Jean Tinguely. The machine, made in 1960, which shakes and sputters when it’s turned on, comes from the collection of Robert Rauschenburg, Tinguely’s collaborator on his famous self-destructing machine, Homage to New York (1960). The asking price of the yet-unsold construction is in the high six figures, says Angela Westwater.

Carla Accardi's Segni Verdi, 1967.

Westwater reports other sales, including Untitled (2014), a framed construction of what looked like purple coral by the Lebanese artist Nabil Nahas, which sold for $130,000. The hypnotic Segni Verdi (1967), a work in abstract green undulations on plastic by the recently deceased Italian practitioner of industrial arte povera, Carla Accardi, sold in dollars in the mid-six figures.