TEFAF New York Spring at Park Avenue Armory, through Monday, noon to 8pm. $50/25. tefaf.com
Thank you, dear Holland, for bringing some civilization to New Amsterdam. The European Fine Art Fair is familiar to collectors and trade as Maastricht, the southern Dutch border town that has hosted the fair, on and off, since 1988. TEFAF has now joined the global franchising trend that gives us Basel in Miami and Hong Kong and other geographical marketing wonders. The fair had reportedly been looking for a big enough US venue – Maastricht takes place in cavernous fair grounds – for some time. In settling upon the unique charms and strategic location of the Park Avenue Armory they have come up a cropper.
If you think you are familiar with the Armory from the countless fairs staged there, the transformation of the landmarked drill hall will take your breath away. TEFAF are beneficiaries of the top notch restorations of the Armory that have been taking place recently, but they have brought their own style sensibility to bear on the Victorian interiors. By compressing the entrance lobby they have carved out new exhibitor spaces on the first and second floors. Whiting out the regimental paraphernalia behind semi-opaque cloths was a super classy move. The galleries lucky – or tony – enough to secure these eccentric spaces have been able to exploit the sheer theatricality of these backdrops to spectacular effect: Di Donna, for instance, with what they bill as a Surrealist banquet, in which such later visual-edibles as a Wayne Thiebaud rubbed salon-hang shoulders with canonical Surrealist treasures. The Palazzo Fortuny in Venice came to mind for the way modern and antique treasures were offset with at once sumptuous and raw décor in this and other rooms, Hauser & Wirth’s for instance.
The median quality of materials on view at TEFAF was pretty staggering, but consistently there was the pleasurable frisson of antique and modern juxtaposed, of blue chip taking its chances with a given new discovery or revival. Some stands were cabinets of curiosity, some haute bourgeois living rooms, some museum quality white cubes, and the back and forth between these various experiences added to the sense of a well-ordered visual feast. Black African, pre-Cycladic and modern furniture were first amongst equals amidst the eclectic mix on offer.
Stand outs for this visitor: a louche, mannerist portrait by Otto Dix at Richard Nagy of London, standing guard to a packed display of Klimt and Schiele drawings; a spare, elegant pairing of Barbara Hepworth and Bridget Riley at another London dealers, Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert; mouthwatering Egyptian carvings and trinkets at Charles Ede; a powerfully focused selection of Carmen Herrera from around 1950 at Lisson; fascinating Russian and Ukrainian works from the late Tsarist and early revolutionary period, 1890-1934 (a to-die-for early Kandinsky on incised wood) at James Butterwick; a wall-mounted bureau by Jean Prouvé from his Villa Saint Clair, with Laffanour Galerie Downtown from Paris. Quite the coup was to be found at Bernard Goldberg, presenting three Thomas Hart Benton mural-sized canvases from a suite (the remainder of which are now in the Nelson Atkins and Terra museums) painted early in his career to show prospective clients, scholars propose, that he had the chops to handle mural commissions. Another really memorable booth was Hidde van Seggelen’s where early works by Dutch neo-conceptualist Pieter Laurens Mol were to be savored. (An ’80s star, he was a discovery for me.) At once learned, thoughtful, playful and exquisitely crafted, Mol felt perfect as a solo presentation at this truly connoisseurial fair.