Great Art for Deep Pockets

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If you are deeply, passionately in love with art of all ages, then no doubt you know about TEFAF Maastricht, the world famous art fair that takes place annually in the Netherlands. This year it celebrates its 25th anniversary and, true to form, the 260 best known art and antique dealers from 18 different countries raised a traditionally high bar to a whole new level.


There are hundreds of art fairs and biennials these days, all over the world, but if one wants to see the absolute best, then the list is short. The non-commercial Venice Biennale, the oldest and most famous of them all. Art Basel, the most prestigious market for contemporary art. And then, TEFAF Maastricht, where you come to shop for the best of the best, whether it's Egyptian, Greek or Roman antiquities, Medieval and Renaissance art, or paintings, drawings and decorative arts of the last three centuries.


When I went to Maastricht for the first time, three years ago, I was duly impressed with the fair. Each dealer, in his or her booth, presented the art with such sophistication, elegance and precision you felt you were in a top-notch museum. This year, for its Silver Anniversary, the fair once again unveiled several hundred, museum quality, "haiku" exhibitions. But one thing is different.


Contemporary art and design are no longer relegated to secondary status, as had been the case a few years ago when it was exhibited in an entirely separate space, as if sent to sit at the proverbial children's table. This time around modern and contemporary art have been invited to sit, so to speak, with the grown-ups at the adult table. And as a result, everyone is a winner.


It is invigorating to see Picasso's portrait of his first wife, Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, not far from Guiseppe Arcimboldo's 16th Century Portrait of a Man Composed of Fruit. No less fascinating to confront an 11th Century Chinese stone portrait, in close proximity to a 2nd Century AD, Fayum Mummy Portrait. And all that next to Rodin sculptures, Modigliani drawings and Max Beckmann paintings, to mention just a few of the masterpieces on display.


Never mind the state of the world economy. The prices for the art are high, very high, and the aisles are crowded not only with European old money collectors, but also with newly minted millionaires and billionaires from the Americas, China, Russia and India. These new collectors are interested primarily in contemporary art, as a result driving up the prices for 20th and 21st Century work to new heights. One can buy a rare Old Master painting or drawing for less than a platinum print by Irving Penn, which will set you back close to one million Euros.


So my advice to those of you, my friends, ambitious enough to think about collecting: open your eyes to the beauty and timeless charm of all those artworks that were created centuries and even millennia ago. There are still treasures to be found and acquired for less than what some silly people pay these days for shiny baubles by Jeff Koons or spot paintings by Damien Hirst. And by the way, if you happen to be in Europe this week, the TEFAF Maastricht runs until Sunday, March 25.

Banner image: Tulips at TEFAF 2009. Photo by Pieter de Vries Texel