NEW YORK – In October 2016 The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) debuted its first New York edition inside the Park Avenue Armory and was met with high praise from new and stalwart TEFAF visitors alike. This week TEFAF New York's highly anticipated spring fair opens, promising a presentation of Modern and contemporary art and design that is faithful to TEFAF's long-respected approach to connoisseurship and can stand alongside Frieze on the New York art fair calendar. I spoke with managing directors Michael Plummer and Jeff Rabin, the "architects" behind bringing the Maastricht fair to New York, about what to expect from a 20th century-focused TEFAF. Read on for a summary of our conversation.
EM: You are the Managing Directors of TEFAF New York. What exactly is your role within TEFAF as a whole?
Jeff Rabin: We are the ones who brought TEFAF to the US, and specifically to New York. We were behind the two-fair concept and using the Park Avenue Armory as the venue, as well as the idea of expanding the fair’s footprint beyond the Drill Hall to use all of the building’s period rooms.
Michael Plummer: We proposed the idea to TEFAF in 2015, right around the time Patrick van Maris joined [TEFAF] from Sotheby’s. TEFAF was looking to expand to the Americas, and we proposed forming a partnership with them to bring the to New York. We came up with the concept of two fairs because TEFAF in Maastricht is so large. We divided the fair into two with a focus on historical art in October, and then a Modern and Contemporary fair in May, during what are normally the weeks of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art evening sales at the auction houses, and during Frieze.
EM: What is your vision for the modern and contemporary Art focus of the May fair?
JR: The Park Avenue Armory is a historic 19th century building that is so important to the landscape of New York, and full of traditional designs and dark wood. Showing Modern and contemporary art in this setting is essential to the experience. Tom Postma, who designed the fall 2016 fair, has designed this edition to compliment the darkness of the Armory and lighten every area. From the moment you approach the front doors you are transported into a bright, vibrant space, but the design still pays homage to the 19th century building.
The fair is focused on Modern and contemporary art and design, but a number of dealers will bring other pieces that work well with these aesthetics, such as antiquities, tribal and ethnographic pieces, and some jewellery. The idea is to make the fair a place that visitors want to come to explore and engage with extraordinarily knowledgeable people from various art and design areas.
MP: There were two key components to our vision. First, to keep the fairs consistent with the TEFAF brand – this fair is not like other contemporary art fairs in New York that only focus on contemporary art, but instead presents Modern and contemporary art in the context of the 20th century. New York was at the centre of postwar art movements, so we felt it was really important to create an art historical fair of art from the 20th century, starting with Modernism.
TEFAF New York will also present a mix of art and design from areas that collectors tend to collect alongside contemporary art, such as pre-Columbian artefacts and antiquities.
JR: We received many compliments after the fall edition about the combination of two-dimensional paintings and other fine art objects. You also see this at Sotheby’s, where objects and paintings from a sale are shown together – there is a certain kind of energy that comes from displaying these objects together. We are recreating that this spring and think it will be very successful.
EM: What do you hope will define the May edition of TEFAF and set it apart from other New York art fairs? How does TEFAF fit into the May art fair landscape?
MP: By displaying more than just Modern and contemporary art, the experience of TEFAF New York is similar to TEFAF Maastricht, but also similar to how these collectors live with their art. A lot of contemporary art fairs come to feel like trade shows, but our fair is traditionally New York in design. The environment is more conducive to a luxury experience.
We set out to create a destination fair in the middle of Manhattan – which is very ambitious.. You feel you’ve arrived at an amazing destination, as if you’re not on Park Avenue.
JR: The location is important. At a time of year when collectors are very busy, between gallery openings, previews at Sotheby’s and other auction houses and more, it was important to us to have a fair in the middle of the city. The location cannot be beat for convenience and centrality for the art community when they are running around New York.
EM: Who is the audience of the May edition of TEFAF New York, and how is it different from the audience of your other fairs or other New York fairs in May?
MP: TEFAF Maastricht draws a large and respectable crowd of American collectors, but is better attended by American museum directors and curators than collectors. By having a fair in New York, TEFAF can reach a wider audience of North American collectors, especially because it is associated with the Maastricht fair’s reputation for quality. We are expanding on that legacy. But our audience is any collector, director or curator looking for the best of the best, for rare and unique things. Based on those we already know are coming we know we are attracting the most serious collectors in the world – real connoisseurs – right out of the gate.
EM: Beyond established collectors, are you hoping to tap into the audience of New York fairgoers and younger contemporary art collectors?
MP: We definitely hope to attract them. It is easier to get young collectors to drop in to the Park Avenue Armory than to fly to Maastricht!
JR: Young collectors who visit the fair will see property going back in time, which may pique their interest.
MP: That is part of the benefit of having fair that spans the entire 20th century and shows contemporary art in the context of its predecessors: it is very helpful for educating young collectors. Rather than being told by a gallerist that an artist is referring to some other artist, or was inspired by another work, they can actually see those connections, as the works are shown in art historical context. Our approach is very special and important for this reason.
JR: We also make a point of running panels that we call Coffee Talks to educate those interested in different topics. And, for example, part of our VIP programme is a tour of the Turner exhibition at the Frick Collection, which is a more historical show, but perhaps younger collectors do not know that Turner’s work was a precursor to much modern painting.
MP: Reaching the next generation of collectors and getting them into the art market is critical to our mission, so we have very much embraced social media to expand our reach and the reach of the TEFAF brand to a younger audience.
JR: We see TEFAF not just as a fair but as a cultural destination, a happening. The idea is to integrate our fair into the marketplace as a cultural institution more wholly.
MP: We think it is vital to the art scene and especially in the art world capital to present art from across historical time periods in dialogue. This will come through to any visitor, be it in the salon-style historical rooms or the more traditional booths.
Sotheby's Preferred is delighted to partner with TEFAF Maastricht and TEFAF New York for VIP access. TEFAF New York opens to the public on 4 May 2017 and runs through 8 May 2017.
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