Art fairs used to be principally trade shows for specialist audiences, and few were more established and exclusive than the European Fine Art Fair — which each March lures museum directors and deep-pocketed connoisseurs to Maastricht, in the southern tip of the Netherlands. Now, fairs constitute a year-round global festival of commerce, chitchat and champagne sponsorship, and Tefaf has established a pair of smaller New York spinoffs: a fall edition focused on older art, and a spring show with a more modern orientation.
Three years in, Tefaf New York Spring has matured from an experiment into an appointment, with offerings of notably higher quality than most of its New York competitors. Though galleries of modern art dominate this spring jamboree, it’s also accented with furniture dealers, specialists in antiquities and a few lavish jewelers flogging all manner of drop earrings and diadems. Tefaf is also unique among art fairs for its rigorous vetting process, which involves dozens of experts combing the booths to authenticate the wares on offer.
Many dealers here have turned their booths into solo shows (Pace has filled its booth with an array by Jean Dubuffet), regional showcases (Gladstone Gallery’s all-Brazilian booth is a showstopper) or thematic mini-exhibitions. (At Sprüth Magers, all the works are by women working in a political vein in the 1980s.)
The fair runs through Tuesday; here are some highlights, whether you’re buying or browsing.
BOOTHS 347 AND 371 (DRILL HALL)
David Zwirner and David Tunick, Inc.
If you’re a painter or sculptor wondering how to persuade a gallery to represent you, perhaps you might try dying? Lately the biggest galleries have jostled with one another to represent the estates of deceased artists, and last month David Zwirner has nabbed a heavyweight: Paul Klee, the splendidly cagey Swiss-German modernist and Bauhaus professor.
Zwirner is trumpeting its coup with an all-Klee booth here, full of wily small-scale watercolors like “Signs in the Field” (1935), with its joyously inscrutable cloud of glyphs, ovals and eyes. Yet the fair’s best Klee is on the booth of David Tunick, a specialist in prints and drawings, where you’ll find a knockout 1923 portrait of the soprano Lilli Lehmann, goggle-eyed and adrift in a sea of beige. Klee executed it with a unique blend of oil and watercolor, and its spare, witty lines make it appear almost as a comedic double of his imposing “Angelus Novus.”