MAASTRICHT - The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht bills itself as "the world's leading art fair," and that, it is. It is also, however, the leading art fair for openings, throwing one of the best parties in the art world on the night of its VIP preview every March.
And this year did not disappoint, from the moment the doors opened and the first cups of coffee were served, along with miniature chocolate muffins to nibble while browsing among treasures like Jacob van Ruisdael's Hunters in A Wooded Landscape (at Haboldt & Co.), with the bright red strike of a hunter's coat punctuating an olive and brown-toned wood; a beautifully curated presentation of Léger, Calder, and Miró (at Hammer Galleries); a ruby and diamond Van Cleef and Arpels brooch (at Epoque Fine Jewels), and a profusion of tulips in bloom.
Jacob van Ruisdael's Hunters in A Wooded Landscape at Haboldt & Co.
The night is legendary for the number of private planes that arrive at Maastricht airport every year, and for the elegance and understated power it exudes. Here you will find little but the best of everything (though admittedly some contemporary dealers seem to be holding back their real standouts until the Basel fair in June). Each of the 266 galleries has been subjected to the strictest vetting process in the industry, with a team of 180 experts in every field, from Egyptologists to Contemporary scholars, men who crawl under Louis XIV tables and squint at 30-carat diamond brooches by Cartier, and women who compare signatures and look inside of frames.
Accenting rooms throughout the fair, Holland's famed tulips provide a colorful and elegant backdrop to the fair. Photo by Peter Madden.
And after the coffee and the muffins, as the crowds arrive, so, too, do the rest of the day's culinary rewards, served in abundance along the aisles named for the world's great art and shopping streets, like Madison Avenue and Trafalgar Square. By noon, after the Qatari sheikhs have reportedly come and gone and most of the journalists retired to the press office to file their first reports, young men appear with sandwiches of tomato pesto and cream, needed sustenance for eager collectors, such as the one who had already reserved Adam Pijnacker's Wooded Landscape (also at Haboldt) by 1 pm.
Down the road, Hammer Galleries' stand this year is reason enough to visit the fair, with its careful study of Piet Mondrian's influence on the three featured artists illustrated by a Mondrian "composition" and the canvas which was allegedly Calder's first reaction to visiting the Dutch artist's studio (neither of which is for sale). And there is more: Daniel Blau's best selection yet of early Andy Warhol drawings (priced generally from 23,000 to 55,000 euros; the $100 million diamond brooch at David Graff; the rare Roy Lichtenstein landscape edition (30,000 euros)—one of only two known to exist of the edition of 70, of which, dealer William Weston believes, only the first few were ever made.
Flowers in the entrance hall of TEFAF 2013. Photo by Peter Madden.
And there is even more fabulous food than fabulous art, and it just keeps coming, along with flutes of Bollinger: fresh oysters, shelled to order; goat cheese "lolipops" and carpaccio salad, salmon mousse designed to look like licorice all-sorts on a plate; sliced steak and balls of shrimp "bonbons" and a chocolate fondue.
The VIP event runs to 9 PM each year, ending with a crowds of exuberant shoppers, satisfied lookers, and exhausted but contented dealers. Sales were strong across the board, it seems ; and as the guests all filed out, TEFAF wished them off with a farewell goodnight kiss—a chocolate one, for the sweetest of night's dreams.