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.”