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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Post-Observations on TEFAF 2024

On the Space

Every now and then someone could be spotted hunching over a map stand in a hallway, tracing their finger along the colour-coded surface. 254 regular stands, 21 focus, special exhibition, and showcase stands as well as 14 business stands could be found here, and while some people chose to tackle TEFAF methodically, others simply wandered where their fancy took them. 

On opening day for the general public, it took some time to get in, and the wait time only increased on the following day, with the line stretching across the whole of the MECC corridors. But the final few days saw an easier waiting time. Regardless, as soon as you made it through the metal detectors, the first thing you’d see was the information desk area, with dark walls and soft carpet, quiet conversations, and a flowery display on the left, usually populated with an orderly line of visitors waiting their turn to take a picture next to the TEFAF sign. 

Beyond this area, the exhibition hall was set up somewhat like a city. The blocks were easy to traverse until they weren’t, and you’d sometimes find yourself taking a U-turn and passing the cocktail bar for the fourth time that day. It resembled an artsy quarter littered with beautiful little galleries, stocked with restaurants and public benches. Well, at least if your local artsy quarter boasts an oyster bar, champagne carts, and well-cleaned public bathrooms. Despite the lavishness setting it apart from a metropolitan setting, the careful wanderings of the visitors, the tired gaze of the workers of the stands as the week wore on, the rushing of the restaurant and maintenance staff, the quiet salesmanship at the stands, all still reminded me somewhat of a Saturday at the antique market. 

At the stands, we noticed dried coral, intricate boxes of all shapes, sizes, and materials, and model boats on wheels designed to carry salt across dinner tables, so some motifs could be seen weaving throughout the fair. But still, every gallery presented itself differently. São Roque with its 17th-century roof, repainted to an 18th-century style, moved from a house in north Portugal, which they meant to sell last year, but decided to keep after all. Anna Hu with the seemingly floating Gnossiene Brooch. ML Fine Art Milan, creating a beautiful colour scheme and drawing people in with preparatory art for the Gates by Christo. Prahlad Bubbar, with its tall dark walls highlighting a striking orange Tibetan Tiger Rug from the 19th century right in the center of the room. Each stand I visited had its unique selling points, and the three stands I selected to delve into further below are no exception. 

Galerie Delalande

Galerie Delalande first participated at TEFAF Maastricht in 2013 and is a Parisian gallery of marine and science objects, tobacco and opium artifacts, great canes, and other curiosities. Its’ stand was nestled on the southwest side of the exhibition hall, with light brown ship-like interiors and white accents, rounded white windows, and even a table reminiscent of one you’d find in the captain’s quarters. A wide walkway in its center with light floorboards offset the many trinkets, giving guests space to explore the colourful yet soft displays, including 19 ornate canes, 14 globes (including 2 tiny ones), 3 equatorial rings, 4 microscopes, at least two telescopes, 9 hourglasses, 2 model ships, 4 sundials, an astronomical compendium, and my favourite piece, an anatomical model of a cockroach by Dr. Louis Jerome Auzoux.

Mentink and Roest 

Mentink and Roest, based in Ingen in the Netherlands, deals in top-quality clocks from the 16th to 19th century, specialising in Renaissance clocks. Its TEFAF stand was relatively understated in design, with back interior ceiling high shelves and greyish-brown walls that did not overpower the rich browns, whites, and golds of the clocks. The steady ticking and the appearance of slowly swinging pendulums incited a strange sense of calm, and even though the sudden chiming of the clocks occasionally caught the attention of visitors even outside the stand, this did not feel overpowering or interruptive, merely politely drawing their gaze. There were clocks of all shapes and sizes, from pocket watches to large long case clocks, including some non-clock artifacts such as barometers and scientific instruments. All in all, I counted 164 clocks, which I shared with the exhibitor just for fun, since the team wasn’t sure of their number themselves. But my very favourite pieces were the tiny little clocks, none larger than an egg, that had tiny little cases to match.

Gallerie Steinitz

La Maison Steinitz, based in Paris, specialises in sculpture, furniture, and works of art from the 16th to 19th century, and employs more than twenty artisans in its restoration workshops in addition to its exhibition spaces.

At first, I encountered two busts and a tall interior wall decorated with a tapestry, hiding the inside of the stand from the outside world. Once I stepped behind the wall, I was hit with the heavy air and mirrored walls of the living room, with its many chairs and giant covered desk. It had a grand chandelier, which matched the one in the room next door, which appeared to be an office. In addition to the beautiful wall panels, there was paneled wood flooring on the floor in both rooms, and the doorways even had their own unique pattern. In the office, there was a beautiful ornate clock, a total of six bouquets of flowers scattered about, four intricate side tables, and an ornate desk in its center. Being inside this world felt strange, like I had walked into something simultaneously resilient and vulnerable in its age. People walked slowly and carefully around these spaces, peering up at the high-feeling ceilings and pausing to let others take pictures.

On Paintings

I greatly enjoyed wandering around at TEFAF. I even enjoyed walking at a respectable yet brisk pace towards the exit after losing track of time. But above all, I enjoyed the moments that revealed a little bit about how the TEFAF clock ticks. From seeing staff disappearing into back rooms that I hadn’t noticed, to the little trays that magically appeared on the final day, easing the task of moving items past the metal detectors at the entrance, each detail revealed a little about the complex machinery behind the elegant affair. Another cog in the machine was that sometimes pieces in the stands were removed, such as a small piece by Etel Adnan being tucked away at Schönewald Düsseldorf after being reserved, or when I was sure a piece had just popped up out of nowhere, such as Fausto Melotti’s Festoon at Walter Podovani’s stand, though that particular example was surely my mind playing tricks on me. 

I did not see everything I wished to at TEFAF, but during its generous opening hours, I was lucky to see countless pieces that caught my eye. With my concluding remarks, I would like to highlight just a few of those works. To choose, I narrowed my scope to modern and contemporary paintings, and within that sphere, I started seeking works that struck me in their use of texture and colour, especially red and black. Though originating from different artists and decades, I find that these works share a visual language in some respects, while their differences highlight each other’s unique aspects. 

 “Untitled Maternite” by Eugene Leroy (c.1959)

Oil on canvas (100 x 81 cm), presented by Demisch Danant (stand 432)

Leroy’s paintings, usually described as Expressionist or Neo-expressionist, can be characterised by the impasto technique he employed in creating them, a process that could stretch on for years. The piece depicted here exemplifies the transition in Leroy’s work from more traditional representation towards increasing abstraction during the 1950s and 1960s, which positioned his work as a part of the history of Expressionist painting.

 “Composition 2 x 1” by Albert Gleizes (1922)

Oil on Panel (202.4 x 100.3 cm), presented by Waddington Custot (stand 445)

One of the founding fathers of Cubism, Albert Gleizes was both a practitioner and theorist, co-authoring (along with Jean Metzinger) the treatise  “Du ‘Cubisme’” and his paintings capturing “the essence of Cubist ideology.” By 1921, Gleizes was experimenting with unconventional geometric abstraction on large canvases, as exemplified by Composition Bleu et Jaune. In my view, the composition depicted here follows a similar experimentation, especially in light of being painted merely a year later. Another comparison that can be made between Composition Bleu et Jaune and the composition depicted here is that while there is certainly significant abstraction, they both retain the perpendicular status of the figure in the piece, as if they were portraits.

Sayed Haider (S.H) Raza “Cantique” 1971

Acrylic on board (49.53 x 64.77 cm), presented by Aicon (stand 444)

Considered one of the most prominent Indian painters of his generation, S.H Raza’s work evolved since the beginning of his painting in the early 1940s, following distinct stages through his migration to France, his interaction with Abstract Expressionism through the 1950s and 1960s, and his return to an Indian aesthetic philosophy in the 1970s. As a result, Raza experimented with several Modernist styles, being most known for his works in Abstract Expressionism and Geometric Abstraction, where the one constant was his engagement with nature and landscape, as well as his mastery of colour.

There aren’t any rules that stipulate how to experience TEFAF best, nor should there be. However, if you ever have the chance to go to TEFAF, whether you intend to investigate the fair meticulously, or plan to get lost within the walls of the exhibition hall in search of hidden treasures, I recommend giving yourself as much time as possible, since there will always be something interesting just around the corner.


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