Shifting American Priorities
Since the days of John Pierpont Morgan and Henry Clay Frick, New World buyers seeking Old World treasures have been key to the prosperity of the European art and antique trade. But in a post 9/11 era when both priorities and collecting fashions have changed, do Americans still come to Europe to buy art and antiques?
It is a painful truth that since the turn of the 21st century – while the committed collector, curator, interior designer and dealer continues to make the journey – many potential spenders have chosen to stay at home. Of the 75,000 visitors to last year’s The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, around 2,500 (3%) were from the United States. Good, but not good enough for the world’s foremost art and antiques show.
Replicating the Magic of Maastricht
It is in this context that TEFAF, umbrella organiser of the Maastricht fair, are launching two boutique events in the Park Avenue Armoury on the Upper East Side of New York City. TEFAF New York Fall runs from October 21-26 with the follow-up spring event on May 4-7, 2017.
On paper, at least, there are caveats. The events calendar is bursting, the supply of museum quality objects is finite and, in the pursuit of the American dream, the ‘once a year’ magic of Maastricht could be lost. However, in reality, TEFAF New York comes with fewer risks.
The twin shows effectively rebrand and reshape two established events. The October show takes the place of The International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show – the first fully vetted event of its type in the US when launched 28 years ago. While the May slot comes courtesy of Spring Masters, managed since 2014 by Artvest, who are TEFAF’s partners in the venture. Both dates are gold dust at a time when the Armoury authorities are cutting back on art and antiques events and provide a natural springboard from which to launch.
Nor are these ‘new’ fairs on the scale of Maastricht. In contrast to the 270 exhibitors at the MECC in Holland – a venue purpose built for international expos and trade fairs – the drill hall and rooms on the first and second floors of the Armory allows for a more modest 94 dealers.
Proof is in the Pudding
Stands sold out quickly to a range of A-listers – in contrast to the lukewarm reception that greeted plans for a joint TEFAF-Sotheby’s venture in Beijing three years ago. With hindsight, the decision to shelve a 2013 fair in China looks the right one. A New York show, building on established events in the world’s art market capital, is surely a much safer bet.
Proof that America remains the single most important overseas market to British dealers in particular, comes with another initiative a fortnight later.
On November 9-13, members of the British Antique Dealers Association (BADA) will exhibit from a dedicated pavilion at the New York Art, Antique and Jewelry Show at Pier 94. A promotional partnership between BADA and organisers The Palm Beach Show Group has been formed in the wake of the Brexit vote that has seen sterling weaken against the dollar. “With the change in the value of the pound, now is the time for us to create new opportunities for BADA members in the US markets,” says BADA chief executive Marco Forgione.
European dealers look forward to sometime in the future when American collectors return in number to their shores. But for now, as the saying goes, if the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain. For three weeks this fall, New Yorkers in search of Old World treasures will be spoilt for choice.