Landau Fine Art, the only Canadian dealer at this elite European art fair
Inside the Montreal gallery's booth at the exclusive TEFAF Maastricht event
The most beautiful art fair in the world is in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and Robert Landau of Landau Fine Art in Montreal is the only Canadian dealer among the elite.
"The mood is better than ever — and we've been coming for more than 20 years." - Robert Landau, Montreal art dealer, on this year's TEFAF art fair
For art buyers as well as for art lovers willing to pay a 40-euro ($59) entry fee, TEFAF Maastricht offers boatloads of high art for every taste, if not for every pocketbook.
There are 276 prestigious galleries showing this year at the fair, which opened last Thursday and runs until Mar. 20. Galleries lobby long and hard for entry to TEFAF, but so far only Landau Fine Art has joined.
"Landau is one of the outstanding dealers in works of the first half of the 20th century. There's not another dealer of that stature in Canada," said Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) senior curator Hilliard Goldfarb, one of many international museum officials in attendance. "On a couple of occasions, his works were featured as one of the star pieces of all Maastricht."
Part of the fun of TEFAF is discovering important works long out of public view. One big draw this year is a small, signed oil painting displayed by Paris dealer Galerie Talabardon & Gautier called Smell by the teenage Rembrandt.
"Many people were looking at it because it's rather rare," said Nathalie Bondil, director and chief curator of the MMFA.
Accompanied by Goldfarb, Bondil bought an 1860 watercolour, Death and the Maiden, by the German romantic symbolist Hans Makart, which, said Bondil, will perfectly fit the museum's collection.
TEFAF is "one of the best fairs in the last few years in terms of overall quality, range and interesting works," said Goldfarb, who admitted feeling fatigued after a day of walking along long corridors with elegantly designed stands selling antiques, decorative arts, prints, drawings and paintings.
Touring the Landau stand, Bondil and Goldfarb were impressed by a pristine Kandinsky watercolour from 1913 and by Paul Delvaux's 1936 surrealist painting, Le Miroir. Bondil received a "TEFAF surprise" when she saw Kees Van Dongen's 1910 Young Girl with Green Hat.
"I co-curated a Van Dongen exhibition in 2009 and it was not available. I was happy to discover it now."
To Landau's mind, the latest TEFAF has never looked so good.
"The mood is better than ever — and we've been coming for more than 20 years. The new CEO, Patrick van Mavis, is very good, and nice. He's made a lot of positive changes to the décor. The booths are more visible, not like your average art fair where you've got little boxes."
On TEFAF's first day, Landau sold four recent paintings by the South Korean contemporary artist Kwang-Young Chun. Although contemporary art accounts for almost half of world art sales according to the European Fine Art Foundation's annual Art Market Report, TEFAF avoids straying far into territory dominated by fairs such as Art Basel/Miami.
"It's good that TEFAF remains focused, and [doesn't] try to compete with contemporary art fairs," said Bondil. "People go to Maastricht just for TEFAF and not to be distracted by off-fair attractions or shopping."
TEFAF surprised dealers last month, however, by announcing two annual small-scale shows at the Manhattan site of the famous Armory art shows in New York. An antiquity-to-20th-century show opens in October. A modern/contemporary show follows in May. No more than 90 dealers will participate.
"If they put 80 dealers in 25-square-metre boxes, which is what the Armory has, it isn't going to say much about TEFAF. It'll probably be just another Armory show. But it depends what they'll do," said Landau, who wondered whether TEFAF New York might draw people away from Maastricht. "Time will tell."