Photo Essays

TEFAF 2019, Safe and Champagne-filled With a Few Elements of Surprise

Amid the current state of US politics, the latest fall edition of the fair offered a selection of mostly apolitical artworks as soothing as a BBC documentary.

Antique English furniture on view at the Ronald Phillips booth at TEFAF Fall New York 2019 (all photos by Angelica Frey/Hyperallergic, unless otherwise stated)

Ritzy guests, free-flowing Ruinart, and crowded floorplan notwithstanding, attending the fall edition of TEFAF is not too different from ambling around the first two floors of the Metropolitan Museum: a lot of Greco-Roman statues and busts, quaint objets d’art, knick-knacks and antique furniture, and, of course, a solid lineup of giants of the canon.

Unlike its spring counterpart focused on contemporary art, the fall edition of TEFAF mostly presents decorative arts and artworks “from antiquity to 1920,” and while this means next to no occasions to showcase any boundary-pushing or controversial art of the current era — as most artworks were apolitical and divorced from any current/universal issues — this resulted into a visually satisfying experience, as soothing as a BBC documentary. 

The Landau Fine Art booth at TEFAF

If big names are what interests you, you should know that at Landau Fine Art, René Magritte stole the scene with paintings such as “La Corde Sensible” (1960), in which a cloud tops a champagne glass amid a placid landscape; Bottegantica offered a sample of Italian futurism with works by Giacomo Balla; while Galeria Mayoral displayed two works by Joan Miró, “Figure and Bird” (1977) and “Painting Project for A Tapestry” (1973-4). Interestingly, the two paintings were presented in close proximity to a 3rd millennium BC sculpture of a  bronze wagon with bulls — presented by Cahn International AG — highlighting their aesthetic similarities.

René Magritte “La Corde Sensible” (1960), oil on canvas, 44.9 x 57.5 inches (courtesy of TEFAF New York)

Of course, the fall edition of TEFAF also lets decorative objects, both big and small, take centerstage: Lillian Nassau featured an ample selection of Tiffany lampshades, while Kugel presented a tete-a-tete lunch service from 1810, a gift among Swedish royals. Mullany showcased sprawling tapestries from the early 16th century depicting fabled countrysides and hunting scenes. 

Tiffany lampshades on view at the Lillian Nassau booth

Across galleries, one could find portraits of what, for lack of a better term, one could call “sensuous maidens,” works completed between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Jack Kilgore showcased “Death and The Maiden” (circa 1900) by Camillo Verno, where an auburn-haired woman wearing white and gold looks at the viewer with a mixture of disdain and aloofness while a skeleton creeps behind her. MacConnall-Mason, for example, showcased “Pyrallis” (1918) by John William Godward, a portrait of a woman with a downcast gaze, wearing a semi-translucent, warm pink veil that matches her lips. Similarly, Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts LLC displayed “Le Voil Vert” (The Green Veil) (1924-25) by Tamara de Lempicka: the subject is a young woman wearing lacquer-red lipstick, offset by an emerald-green veil; her gaze pointed upward, as if in ecstasy. 

John William Godward, “Pyrallis” (1918), oil on canvas, 19.5 x 15.5 inches, on view at the MacConnal Mason booth (courtesy of TEFAF New York)

It’s no mystery that fin-de-siècle female sensuality is a crowd pleaser, and Geneva-based Artvera’s displayed a whole series of dancing women, titled “A Moveable Feast,” featuring work by artists including Edgar Degas, André Derain, and Hugo Schreiber.

The overall aesthetic of the art fair is, for lack of a better term, “safe,” even though there are stray elements of surprise: A.Aardewerk, which normally deals antique jewels, for example, displayed a saddle-and-harness hybrid that recalls a luxury BDSM accoutrement, while outside the main galleries, Brooklyn-based art collective “Breakfast” had three motion-sensitive artworks whose appearance changed based on the movements of the people caught within the radius of their cameras. Their “Climate Change Series,” interactive flippable-disks pieces that reflect on the levels of CO2 around Mauna Loa and water in Venice. 

Andries Lourens de Vries, “Unique Harness Bells” (ca. 1790), silver on leather, length: 90.5 inches, on view at A.Aardewerk Dutch Silver & Antique Jewels (courtesy of TEFAF New York)

And while these more contemporary accents were a pleasant divertissement, there is something blissful about the grandiose predictability of Renaissance tapestries, Old Masters’ paintings, 20th-century modernists, and a fine glass of Ruinart champagne. For once, it was nice to be in a place where nothing, really, was “instagrammable.” 

A lunch service set at the Kugel booth at TEFAF

TEFAF New York Fall continues through November 5, 2019 at Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Ave, Upper East Side).

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