The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), based in Maastricht and founded in 1988, has come to America. The Park Avenue Armory provides the venue, as they did for the Old Masters edition presented last fall. The exhibition is museum quality, which feels like an understatement. An incredible breadth of work is on view, much of them true masterpieces of 20th century art.
Like ADAA before it, the main exhibition hall offers three rows of booths. The presentation is stellar, with crisp white borders on each stall, graced with bold, black lettering making each gallery’s name easy to locate (this is a harder task than it sounds for many fairs, and a constant complaint of fair goers). Many of the booths play with darker interiors in contrast to the white framing, resulting in a very comfortable salon-like atmosphere. This is a radical departure from the look of many blockbuster fairs, with everything huge and white, bathed in the brightest lights possible.
Just before entering the main hall, several galleries take residence in salon style rooms off the main corridor, with Galerie Gmurzynska of Switzerland a notable standout. The mirrored-wall booth is a total shock, like Logan’s Run retrofitted inside the Armory’s formidable Gothic Revivalist spaces. A porthole is cut to the ceiling, allowing one of the Armory’s Art Nouveau chandeliers to dip into the futuristic space, like an ancient hand sticking through a space-time portal. Large works by Roberto Matta and Christo grace opposing walls to great effect.
The architecture of the fair allows for gallerists to more easily present a stylized, thematic booth, and many of the exhibitors on display took the opportunity to curate with great outstanding results. Upon entering the main hall, Laffanour Gallery from Paris presents an excellent collection of French modern design. They are flanked at the opening by Helly Nahmad, who has a fantastic selection of works by Miro, including two excellent sculptures. Heading down the aisles, Galerie Perrotin is showing a blockbuster Jesus Raphael Soto, Galerie Meyer has a museum-quality installation of Oceanic and Eskimo art and artifacts, and Skarstedt has on display a fantastic 90s George Condo – which is a great reminder to go see their show of new Condo works at their Upper East Side venue as well.
The main takeaway is that every dealer here has brought their “A” game. From booth to booth, these are blue-chip works, shown smartly in carefully curated booths. Each gallery is more than worthy of mention, though for sake of expediency, I’ll run down a few favorites. Barbara Mathes has a 1971 work on paper by Philip Guston, a fantastic puffy pink landscape that looks part confectioners sugar, part underground comix. Demsich Danant showcases a massive Sheila Hicks fabric piece amongst some fantastic Mid-Century Design. Edward Tyler Nahem has a booth dedicated to Willem de Kooning, while Anthony Meier divides his booth between Donald Judd, On Kawara and Josef Albers.
Speaking of Josef Albers, it felt like I saw 50 works of his across the fair. Has the heavily publicized desire of uber-collector Stefan Simchowitz to acquire as much Albers as possible created a new increased demand? The only artist represented more in the fair is without a doubt Lucio Fontana. If I saw 50 Albers, I must have seen 70 Fontanas (note: I’m sure I’m wildly off on both these numbers). Arte Povera was well represented – the Italians are still hot. Beyond Fontana, Alberto Burri, Paolo Scheggi and other notable Italian conceptual artists are given massive real estate. Stellan Holm, Tornabuoni Arte, Tina Kim and several others all give wall space to Fontana and other Spatialists and conceptual Italians.
Another booth not to be missed is Richard Gray’s excellent single-artist showing of early works by Jim Dine. The back wall of the booth is dedicated to a large multi-panel 1962 work, Summer Tools, which could hold its own with Johns and Rauschenberg. Dine’s later career over-repetition of hearts and robes has caused many to forget how radical and important his early work truly was. These early post-Dada/Ab-Ex combine-style pieces are testament to how criminally unsung Dine’s work currently is.
The second floor provides galleries with even more intimate salon-style rooms, part hotel and part art terrarium. These booths have their best results when the gallerists incorporate the fantastic classic architecture of the Park Avenue Armory, allowing its stately woodwork to reveal itself. Dickinson, based in London and New York, could be the best representation of this iteration of TEFAF on a whole – Calder mobiles and stabiles, the aforementioned Albers and Fontana, and a wonderful John Chamberlain Tonka truck sculpture, all cleverly ornamented within an inviting, tasteful space. Paul Kasmin has a fantastic and large work on paper by Walton Ford, next to what is sure to be the most Instagrammed piece of the fair, a Claude & Francois Xavier Lalanne baboon-shaped wood stove. Lastly, what may be the best thematic curation of the fair is the “banquet” booth by Di Donna, all clever and sometimes humorous food-themed art, with a heavy amount of Surrealism. Dali’s Lobster Telephone is here, as is a large construction by Max Ernst and a gouache by Rene Magritte. However, tucked high in a back corner is my personal pick for the piece I’d most like to take home: an early Tom Wesselmann still life, an apartment-sized mixed-media construction which should remind everyone about everything that was ever great about Pop Art.
Again, I could (and would) provide gushing reviews of nearly every booth in the fair. Even the food was terrific, and I found myself coaxing friend and eminently talented gallerist Eric Firestone to grab more vegetable sushi, even though we are both on diets.
TEFAF New York Spring 2017
On view May 4-8 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York
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