Exterior view of TEFAF New York 2017.
Friday’s preview for the second edition of TEFAF New York Fall fell on a sunny, perfectly crisp autumn day, the kind of weather that draws Upper East Siders out of the house for a stroll in Central Park, or perhaps a quick jaunt over to the Park Avenue Armory to pick up an ancient Greek urn, a Dutch Old Master, a jeweled match holder, or some other precious trinket or objet from the semi-annual New York edition of one of the world’s most prestigious art fairs.
The early hours of the fair were buzzing, if not with sales, certainly with amiable chatter, sightings of celebrities such as Anderson Cooper and Whoopi Goldberg, the clinking of champagne glasses, and the sizzling of freshly fried dumplings. That’s not to say there weren’t sales—here and there were a few red dots indicating a work was sold, but the overall effect was more Japanese flag than Yayoi Kusama infinity net painting.
“I saw some red dots here and there, but it didn’t feel like crazytown by any means,” said Todd Levin, a New York-based art advisor. “It was a quiet opening.”
Still, the reliable crowd of well-heeled, older collectors and the TEFAF brand name drew nearly a hundred dealers, many of them back for the second time (many are also longtime participants in the TEFAF Maastricht fair). And some dealers did start off with a relative bang. At the booth of London’s Charles Ede Limited, which specializes in antiquities from countries around the Mediterranean, several six-figure works sold on Friday afternoon, as well as several less valuable works, mostly to New York-based collectors but also to collectors from farther afield. Martin Clist, the gallery’s managing director, called the afternoon “invigorating,” and said the booth’s location—immediately upon entering the fair—proved to be a blessing.
“This fair has certainly become one of the two most important fairs in the world to us,” Clist said, the other being TEFAF’s flagship fair in Maastricht in March. He said several clients from TEFAF New York Spring, at which his gallery also exhibited this past May, returned for the fall edition.
“Indeed, I have dropped doing any U.K. fair in favor of New York,” he said.
Installation view of TEFAF New York 2017.
Redmond Finer of the London antique arms and armor dealer Peter Finer had sold a set of 12 steel Japanese arrowheads from the Edo period; a Spanish cup-hilt rapier, or sword, from the late 17th century for $40,000; and a 14th-century Italian basinet, a type of helmet, for $195,000 by Friday afternoon.
“It’s an extremely sophisticated crowd, as you often find in New York,” said Finer, who noted one of his sales was to a new client.
Abby Taylor at the New York City- and Greenwich, Connecticut-based Taylor | Graham had sold a “very spare, very honest” marble neoclassical American bust from 1851 by Friday afternoon, for $32,000.
“This fair…garners a lot of interest because it’s TEFAF in New York, so people don’t have to go to [Maastricht],” Taylor said. “It’s a tough fair, and a high-quality standard fair. For an art dealer, you really enjoy the challenge of that personally, and the clientele that does come through does appreciate it, so there is a lot of reward.” She contrasted that to an art fair she did in Los Angeles, where clients would come in and “ask if we had painted the paintings.” A $385,000 painting by Edwin Lord Weeks, one of America’s pioneers of capturing light’s reflection on water, was on reserve as of Friday; the median price of a work at her booth was around $100,000, she said.
At Naumann Fine Art, a few smaller items sold early, but Otto Naumann said TEFAF tends to be a fair in which the serious buyers come back on Saturday or Sunday to buy, after having had a careful look around.
“This often happens in a fair, you sell the cheaper things that people don’t have to think a lot about, and the more expensive things take time, people have to come back and compare other things,” Naumann said. “It’s hard for even a billionaire to snap his fingers” and spend a million or two on a painting, he added.
Prices at Naumann’s booth spanned a wide range, with the already-sold sculpture Summer Bruschetta by David Esterly coming in at $25,000, and a small painting, Still Life with Goldsmiths’ Pieces by Antoine Vollon, sold at $15,000, and other works available for high six-figures, $1.5 million, and $1.95 million.
Jack Kilgore, who has a gallery on New York’s Upper East Side, had brought works in the range of five figures to low six figures, topping out at under $300,000. On Friday, he’d sold two, Torse de Blonde (Blond Nude) (1919) by Théo van Rysselberghe at $180,000, and a work by Svend Hammershøi for $95,000. He said this year the frisson of a new fair is gone, but it nevertheless still drew serious collectors and a lot of museum staffers.
“I think last year there was more anticipation and curiosity,” Kilgore said. “Now people have seen the fair once, so the surprise of it is not there, but the buzz is good. We’ve done some business already.”
Edwin Lord Weeks, Across the Pool to the Golden Temple of Amritsar, circa 1882-1883. Courtesy of Taylor | Graham and TEFAF New York.
Théo van Rysselberghe, Torse de blonde (Blond Nude), 1919. Courtesy of Jack Kilgore & Co., Inc. and TEFAF New York.
A smaller item was among the first to sell at Rupert Wace Ancient Art, another London dealership appearing for the second time at TEFAF New York Fall: A 12-centimeter long Greek terracotta vase in the form of a phallus from around 550–500 B.C., which would have typically been used to store perfumed oils, went for about $40,000. It was priced towards the lower end of a booth that had items ranging from $1,500 to half a million, according to director Claire Brown. Brown said she was optimistic for the fair, since “last year was so good.”
She added the collectors had been mainly American, but some Europeans were coming over too, “because the TEFAF brand is so big.” TEFAF is known for its sophisticated, slightly older clientele and for its rigorous vetting of each object, which keeps the level of offerings and connoisseurship high.
That brand is important for people like Gonzalo Eguiguren, manning the booth of his father Jaime Eguiguren’s eponymous Buenos Aires-based dealership. The Argentine market, especially for older works, is very small, he said, responsible for an almost negligible share of the gallery’s sales. But at TEFAF, he had already sold the most important piece in his booth, a gorgeous and rare marble mid-16th century fountain, The Fountain of the Four Elements, that came from the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain, for an undisclosed sum. He also sold a pair of decorative marble lions for about $25,000, and a rare dark lacquered wood impasto box from Colombia for between $30,000 and $35,000.
For very high-level clients, Eguiguren said, the driving force in buying wasn’t so much how the economy is doing, since most are wealthy enough to weather macroeconomic ups and downs, but rather that he could bring something they want to buy.
“The economic situation for them is the same, you know?” he said. “We really try to have the most important objects that we can find.”
Andrea Danese, president and CEO of Athena Art Finance, also said rare and blockbuster works appeared to be driving early sales activity.
“[The] strength of individual works is driving sales at TEFAF far more than simply broad macroeconomic drivers,” Danese said. “While difficult to generalize, galleries bringing fresh material with little prior exposure to the public drew the most attention.…We sense that activity has increased over last year.”
There was some debate over how many truly inspiring pieces there were at the fair. Levin, the art advisor, said he’d seen very few masterpieces, just a lot of good-quality works at moderate prices, making the fair for him more of a meet and greet event rather than a transaction-heavy one.
Martin Clist of Charles Ede, Limited, disagreed; he said he felt “no sense of [dealers] 'holding-off'” and saving their marquee works for Maastricht. Clist did, however acknowledge that a couple of his clients said to him that “New York will never be able to rival the sheer size and spectacle of Maastricht.”