As the 37th edition of the fair opened, the air was thick with anticipation. Many exhibitors, still carrying the weight of the previous year’s disappointing sales, were understandably tense. Determined not to repeat history, they doubled down on their efforts, curating their collections to showcase the most spectacular pieces across various specialties. Their hard work paid off: the fair not only witnessed impressive sales but also showcased a level of quality that firmly reestablished TEFAF Maastricht’s esteemed position in the art world.

On March 7th, I passed through the security gates at the entrance of TEFAF Maastricht with my usual excitement. Even after 14 years of loyalty, my enthusiasm is still complete and unwavering. A new floral arrangement by Tom Postma and his team welcomed the first visitors. This year, it took the form of magnificent large clusters of white and pink flowers suspended in the air.

I began my tour of the booths with sheer delight. Old Master paintings, which have contributed to TEFAF’s fame, were prominently featured. A masterful work by Artemisia Gentileschi, ‘The Penitent Magdalene’, circa 1625/30, lit up the stand of the Italian gallery Robilant+Voena which was asking €7 millions for it. Beyond the beauty of the painting, the story behind it is quite amusing. Artemisia initially depicted a Cleopatra, with a serpent winding around her hand, before transforming the queen into a saint, replacing the animal with a skull. The X-ray photograph displayed alongside, perfectly showed the alteration. The result is a richly dressed and adorned Magdalene, which completely deviates from the classical iconography. Did the artist make this transformation to fulfill a commission quickly? The story remains untold…

Artemisia Gentilschi, Magdalene, Robilant+Voena

Artemisia Gentileschi, ‘The Penitent Magdalene’, circa 1625/30. Oil on canvas, 81 x 68,5 cm. © Pauline Loeb.

Let’s stay with painting but leap forward in time to a marvelous canvas by Vassily Kandinsky, offered for €100 million by Landau Fine Arts, based in Montreal, Canada. This painting, depicting a view of Murnau in Bavaria where Kandinsky stayed in 1910, has a tumultuous history. It was acquired in 1924 by the industrialist Siegbert Samuel Stern, then passed to his widow Johanna Margarete Stern. In 1938, it was confiscated by the Nazis and in 1951, was acquired by the Dutch museum Van Abbemuseum. It was only in 2022 that it was restituted to the Stern heirs, who then put it up for sale at Sotheby’s London, where it was finally purchased by Landau Fine Art.

Jennier Landau in front of the painting by Vassily Kandinsky from 1910, in Landau Fine Art’s booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2024. Interview by Pauline Loeb for artfairmag.

Continuing our journey through time, the Galleria Continua stand was a standout for me, thanks to its excellent selection of contemporary works. A large, perforated piece titled ‘Camouflage’ made of brass, steel, and concrete by French artist Kader Attia echoed the delicate cardboard work of Eva Jospin displayed next to it, offering glimpses of other works at the stand, notably a magnificent ‘Violet Pearl over Burple’ by Anish Kapoor. The stand of Kamel Mennour, more understated than last year’s fully decorated by Daniel Buren, was also remarkable, blending modern pieces with works by Picasso and Kenneth Noland, and contemporary favorites of the gallery like Alicja Kwade, Ugo Rondinone, and Tadashi Kawamata.
Galleria Continua - TEFAF Maastricht 2024

Galleria Continua’s booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2024 © Pauline Loeb for artfairmag.

Some galleries went all out in creativity to present their works, but this year’s top honors undoubtedly went to Galerie Flore, based in Brussels. They made the bold choice of a very organic presentation consisting of real flowering branches, from which vases of various origins – Japan, France, Italy, and more – emerged. Hanging from the ceiling was a grand chandelier by Hervé van der Straeten, and from the same artist, an astonishing and dazzling Cabinet ‘Alexandre’.

Galerie Flore at TEFAF Maastricht 2024

Galerie Flore’s booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2024. © Pauline Loeb for artfairmag.

Other vases, this time ancient, were superbly showcased in a very contemporary installation, the result of a daring collaboration between New York contemporary art dealer Sean Kelly, antiquarian Charles Ede, and designer Gloria Cortina. At Axel Vervoordt’s stand, as usual, the floor was raw, the lighting subdued, and the space minimalist. The ‘7 Photographic Details’ by Roman Opalka, which depict the artist at different ages, stood out well against the dark grey walls despite their small size.

Wandering through the aisles, I was struck by the masterful charcoal and Chinese ink on paper by Jean Dupas, circa 1934, presented by Galerie Lefebvre, which also offered, as in many fairs I admit, the adorable sheep by François-Xavier Lalanne. The Kees van Dongen painting from Bailly Gallery, again surrounded by flowering branches, was simply magnificent. But it was the small portrait of Antonietta Gonzales, painted by Lavinia Fontana (1542-1614), and presented by Rob Smeets Gallery, that amused me the most. The little girl, who suffered from hypertrichosis, has her pretty face covered in hair, yet a great gentleness emanates from her gaze. Richly dressed, she holds in her hand a letter detailing the history of her family. Another version, slightly different in size, is found in the collections of the Blois museum.

Lavinia Fontana at Rob Smeets Gallery - TEFAF Maastricht 2024

Lavinia Fontana, ‘Portrait of Antonietta Gonzales’. Oil on canvas, 54,5 x 47 cm. Rob Smeet Gallery’s booth. © Pauline Loeb

Curator’s Booth Pick

Among all these booths, it’s not easy to choose just one! But the New York gallery Waddington Custot brought together masterpieces from some of the greatest contemporary and modern masters in one space. Picasso, Vlaminck, Eugène Boudin, Ian Davenport, Barry Flanagan, and others. My three favorites were a large canvas by Hans Hartung, ‘T1982–R18’, painted in 1982, which immediately made me think of a brooding stormy sky, dramatically pierced by three bold streaks. Another painting, this time from 1974 by Pierre Soulages, an artist I’ve always greatly admired, stood out for its strong duality of black, the deepest seeming to gag the two golden bands visible through it. Finally, ‘228.5o Arc x 5’, a large sculpture by the brilliant Bernar Venet, lent all its elegance to the stand. Part of the Arcs series, this piece consisted of 5 rings, each one interrupted at a precise angle of 228.5 degrees. A stand full of strength and harmony.

Waddington Custot at TEFAF Maastricht 2024.

Art Dealers Interviews

From classical religious sculpture to African, from Renaissance painting to Modern, I aimed to highlight the variety and quality present at the fair. Thus, a delicate Burgundian polychrome stone head of the Madonna, dated around 1400, was presented to me by Tom Davies, director of the Daniel Katz Gallery based in London. Lucas Ratton chose to feature a wooden and fiber statue from the early 20th century, Ivory Coast, which, for once, depicted a man rather than a woman. At Robilant+Voena, Stanislas Martin-Forestier, complied with my request to unveil the uncommon story behind the ‘Penitent Magdalene’ by Artemisia Gentileschi, c. 1625/30 (see above), while the founder of Landau Fine Art, a gallery based in Montreal, introduced me to the Kandinsky that caused quite a stir during the fair (see above).

How Much Does It Cost?

Diversity here again with a work by the media-savvy Ai Wei Wei, depicting Saint George Slaying a Dragon, from 2022, entirely made of LEGO bricks mounted on aluminium, offered at the Galleria Continua stand for €400,000. At Robilant+Voena, a man’s torso by Matteo Pugliese seemed to emerge from the wall, priced at €54,000. At Beck & Eggeling from Düsseldorf, a Christo appeared to be packing up for €280,000, while in the painting by Marc Chagall, presented by Galerie Boulakia, ‘The Betrothed at the Circus’, could find a buyer for the tidy sum of €3.2 million.

Two days are definitely not enough to thoroughly explore TEFAF Maastricht, but my visit was, aside from the slight frustration of not being able to extend it by a day, a real pleasure. The promises were kept, and in my opinion, it truly is the most beautiful fair in the world. I eagerly look forward to next year!

Sum it up, I'm in a rush!

  • When? | March 9-14, 2024
  • Where? | Maastricht, The Netherlands
  • Atmosphere | Breathtakingly chic
  • Curator’s booth pick | Waddington Custot
  • Featured Gallery Gem | Robilant+Voena
  • Spotlighted Artists | Vassily Kandinsky & Artemisia Gentileschi
  • For Whom? | Seasoned collectors

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