MAASTRICHT - To balance out the perspective of the addicted collector at TEFAF, I thought I’d ask a star art dealer who wasn’t exhibiting at the fair for his point of view. That search led easily to Nicholas Mullany, co-founder (with his wife Angela) of the simply-named, London-based firm, Mullany. Specializing in Haute Epoque fine art, the Mullanys have built a solid reputation for their expertise and for the quality of objects that they offer, which include continental sculpture, works of art, furniture and complementary Old Master paintings dating from 1300 – 1700. Currently, Mullany exhibits in a number of other fairs, including BRAFA (which many call “the mini-Maastricht”), Biennale des Antiquaries in Paris, Masterpiece London and PAN Amsterdam.
Abigail R. Esman: How did this year's TEFAF strike you compared to previous years?
Nicholas Mullany: The quality of the ‘old art’ offered was better than compared to last year, especially in our field of early continental sculpture and works of art.
Personally, I liked the new design and lay out, especially the higher ceilings, which opened the fair up. It’s important that even the most successful fairs introduce change periodically—not change for change’s sake, but to keep things fresh and interesting. TEFAF has always been alive to this and it is one of its greatest strengths and reasons why it has flourished where others have waned.
ARE: As a dealer, is TEFAF a useful resource for you to locate material? Or do you find it best in terms of making connections? Or both? (Or neither?)
NM: We do buy at TEFAF, both for the business and for our personal collection.
But TEFAF is much more than an opportunity to source objects. We spend virtually the duration of the fair in Maastricht coordinating numerous appointments with colleagues, clients, museum curators and experts from around the world. I always plan viewings in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany around the fair. We know everyone we need to liaise with will be here at some point during the fair and we work around and schedule for this. We also enjoy Maastricht itself—it is a great little place despite claims you sometimes hear that it is boring. It is a charming respite from central London. We have places where we love to unwind after long days. Its non-stop throughout the fair. Extremely busy—but thoroughly enjoyable.
ARE: One complaint among Contemporary collectors was that a lot of the material had been around the block—they'd seen it at other fairs, either with the same dealer or another. Do you find this to be true in Old Masters and antiques, as well?
NM: There is an element of this, but it is not the problem it appears to be in the contemporary field. Most dealers are familiar with a reasonable amount of each other’s stock. With increasing difficulty each year in sourcing ‘TEFAF quality’ works, a degree of repetition is inevitable. Having said this, in our field, the majority of what is shown is ‘fresh’ to the market.
ARE: What are some of the highlights of the fair, for you—other than the obvious things like the Velásquez at Naumann?
NM: There were two standouts for me. The superb 13th century northern German torso (crucifix) on Longari’s stand and Danny Katz’s exquisite 17th century German ivory corpus. Both are truly exceptional objects.
ARE: Do prices seem in line with what they should be, or do you notice a premium on works because they are at TEFAF? (Yes, this is an evil question!)
NM: I do feel this is a bit of a myth—it is in our field.
Those who covet the sort of works we specialize in are both astute and well informed. They are highly knowledgeable sophisticated collectors. They appreciate quality and they know how difficult it is to find objects for them and the increasing cost of those objects. There is an important element of trust and confidence as well as mutual respect that exists between serious collectors and dealers at this level. Ideally, the relationship should last a lifetime. That relationship is compromised if a client feels prices fluctuate depending on where and when an object is shown. We adopt a uniform pricing policy. I know of no colleague in our field who inflates prices simply because an object is shown at TEFAF.
ARE: Any particular observations about the visitors to the fair, especially in the sections where you specialize? (Younger, more, fewer, more or less interested, whatever?)
NM: The level of interest in Medieval and Renaissance art remains high. TEFAF is a natural home for this field and every serious collector and curator makes the annual pilgrimage.
I think it fair to observe that the majority of TEFAF visitors are older than, say, the average visitor to Basel, Frieze or Frieze Masters.
Of course, many of those that do come are younger, but the overall demographic remains an older crowd.
The need to attract, cultivate and keep younger clients has long been a matter of priority amongst those who deal in ‘old art’ as well as organizers of fairs where it is shown. This is an especially important consideration in the field of early sculpture and works of art. The majority of our client base is over 45 years of age. We do have younger clients, but it is true to say that many younger people are drawn to more fashionable trends. As others have observed, ‘old art’ remains incredibly good value and affordable compared to serious contemporary art—now un-purchasable other than by the seriously wealthy. Younger less established collectors can still buy a serious early sculpture for a fraction of the cost of a comparative contemporary piece. This is a message that perhaps needs to be better communicated.
But as for the fair itself, TEFAF remains the indisputable number one art fair in the world. It is simply fantastic.