Published: October 23, 2018
By Madelia Hickman Ring
NEW YORK CITY – It is hurricane season, but the winds of change have been blowing through art and antiques fairs for months. Changes have been made at the upper-management and exhibitor level at TEFAF, rumors have floated about whether Masterpiece – London’s premier antiques show – will open a New York edition and the New Art Dealers Alliance has opted to cancel its 2019 Spring fair in New York. These changes beg the question of how the landscape of art and antiques fairs in New York City is evolving. What is driving these changes? And what do they signify for the greater antiques and fine art market in New York City?
A European Fair, New York Style
The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) originated in Maastricht, the Netherlands, but within the past few years opened two editions in New York – one in the spring that focuses primarily on modern art and design, and one in the fall, which covers fine and decorative art from antiquity to 1920. Each edition features approximately 90 exhibitors from the around the globe, and both editions are housed at the Park Avenue Armory. In many ways, the fall edition is similar to the new configuration of the Winter Show (see page 24). However, TEFAF keeps the exhibition length to a long weekend, unlike the Winter Show, which spans two weekends.
TEFAF has weathered management changes recently. Until July 2018, TEFAF New York shows were under control of Artvest, a United States-based art advisory and art financing firm. After Artvest’s two-year contract with TEFAF ended, TEFAF brought the management under European control, rather than seeking another American manager. This has been viewed as a strategy to strengthen the global brand. While the previous show managers – Artvest’s Michael Plummer and Jeff Rabin – will continue to be involved, though at a more removed level, Sofie Scheerlink has been appointed TEFAF New York’s new managing director.
Scheerlink, who is relatively new to TEFAF, has experience with technology companies in the art space, specifically working on software and data platforms for the art industry. When asked how her experience would benefit TEFAF, Scheerlink said, “In my experience, art has a somewhat reluctant relationship with tech, at times seeing it as more disruptive than useful. The goal for me is very much to take the best practices from tech – the focus on process, the use of cutting-edge tools to get the job done – and apply them to this organization in a way that can enhance the collective experience of our exhibitors, visitors and staff. Knowing what is possible while understanding the sensitivities of our industry is key.”
Elaborating on TEFAF New York’s strategy for digital marketing, she continued, “TEFAF’s robust integrated marketing campaign naturally includes digital, and this will be a growing component of our marketing moving forward. Social media is an important focus, and we’ve seen engagement grow exponentially across our social media channels in a relatively short time. Our campaigns, such as “Meet the Experts,” have amplified interest in historic art among new audiences, and we will be expanding that program this year, among others. We will also be live-streaming our fantastic Cultural Program for those who can’t make it live.”
When asked about changes to the Fall 2018 edition, Scheerlink said changes would be relatively minor but that it would feature some monumental works of art in the public spaces of the Armory, which would capitalize on the Armory’s unique architecture and soaring spaces. This was something TEFAF New York had introduced in the spring, to positive response.
On October 1, TEFAF Maastricht, with approximately 275 exhibitors – a considerably larger venture than either of its New York editions – announced that the fair’s selection protocols had undergone an extensive review, and the application system had been changed to open up for new applicants. Under the new rules, each section of the fair – including antiques, ancient art, jewelry, paintings, design and works on paper – now has its own distinct selection committee comprised of dealers, with each committee now being required to keep a record of the selection process. As a result of this review, the 2019 Maastricht edition would welcome 38 new exhibitors, most significantly to the modern section, which would see turnover to nearly one-fourth of its exhibitors.
Scheerlink reaffirmed via email, “TEFAF is a global organization, and it’s important to have consistent standards across the board. This approach is designed to provide our dealer community with clear guidelines while reassuring the collecting public and driving confidence. We also hope to encourage first-time buyers who are just beginning to collect to consider the broad range of highly valuable and vetted works on offer.”
It remains to be seen how this change in selection protocols might affect the current roster of exhibitors for the New York spring and fall editions moving forward.
Nearly a year ago, the MCH group purchased a majority stake in Masterpiece London LTD. This move by MCH, which also owns Art Basel, raised speculations that MCH was considering opening an edition in New York, a move which, if true, could present significant competition with both TEFAF and the Winter Show. Antiques and The Arts Weekly reached out to Masterpiece London’s chairman, Philip Hewat-Jaboor, for an up-to-date answer on this question.
Hewat-Jaboor, responding via email through Masterpiece’s PR firm, said, “We are considering locations in USA, Middle East and Asia. At present, we are not able to comment more specifically on when and where the future editions of Masterpiece will take place. Wherever we take Masterpiece, we believe it’s crucial that we create the same exceptional environment and experience for our visitors, exhibitors, collectors and partners that we do in London. We are going to tremendous lengths to ensure that each edition we launch internationally is as carefully considered and produced as Masterpiece London and will only announce details of future editions once we are confident in the plans we have made and arrangements have been made with the corresponding partners at these locations.”
NADA’s Spring Show Is, Well, Nada
Lest one think that historical decorative arts are alone in feeling the brunt of changing times, one need look no further than the New Art Dealers Alliance’s (NADA) decision to cancel its 2019 New York City spring fair. NADA, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to the cultivation, support and advancement of new voices in contemporary art, announced in August 2018 that rather than move forward with a consolidated show for 100 exhibitors, the board had instead opted to dedicate additional resources to promoting programs at participating galleries during the March Art Week. While NADA Miami will continue to take place in early December as it has done for the past six years, this will be the first time since its inception in 2012 that NADA has not held a fair in New York City.
What’s It Worth?
Traditionally, there has been considerable prestige to exhibiting at a major art or antiques fair in New York City. Inclusion validates the reputation of a dealer, particularly those who are up-and-coming. Fairs also provide dealers with access to well-heeled, money-no-object clients they might not otherwise meet, and with whom the dealers can foster long-term, often lucrative, relationships. The flip side to this, of course, is the considerable – even prohibitive – expense involved in doing shows in cities like New York City, where direct show expenses including booth fees are further compounded by expensive travel bills. For dealers that rely on shows to comprise a significant percent of their annual profits, a bad year at an expensive show can be financially crippling. With some collecting categories currently enjoying smaller profit margins than in the past, perhaps it is not surprising that there are more exhibitors who must weigh whether the potential profits and benefits of exhibiting in New York City justify the expense.
Future Of Fairs
The expansion of the modern section at TEFAF Maastricht has ominous implications for participating dealers of historical or traditional antiques, though the Spring TEFAF New York edition may provide a buffer of sorts for exhibitors at the Fall TEFAF New York show. If Masterpiece ultimately decides to open an edition in New York City, would it challenge the prominence of both the TEFAF and Winter Shows? Yet in many ways, Masterpiece’s present decision to stay away may, equally, speak to the strength of the New York City market. Does the closure of NADA’s fair suggest a shift in collecting tastes away from contemporary and a softening of that market? Or does it, too, imply that New York City no longer holds the focus of the art and antiques collecting world it used to? Only one thing is certain: as long as collector’s tastes and trends change, so the winds of change will continue to blow.
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