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If there is an art fair of reference that combines the chronological range of the exhibited pieces with the highest and most exquisite level, it is certainly TEFAF Maastricht which is held this year between 10 and 19 March. This is without a doubt the most important Fine Arts and Antiques fair in the world.
We are talking about an extraordinary selection of art works comprising 7000 years of our history: from the neolithic to the XXI century, or in other words, from the twilight of the Stone Age to the Age of Big Data, from the awakening after 100,000 Years of glaciation to the questioning of climate change, from the constitution of hierophanic spaces in the newly founded Byblos, in which the Torah or the Iliad were still unthinkable, to the globalized liquidity of the future. You just have to have enough money to allow yourself to peruse its 270 exhibitors and choose the piece that convinces you among the 35,000 in display. Although you can also stroll and browse, in this case for the mere door price of 40 euros.
The Executive Committee of The European Fine Arts Foundation (TEFAF) has never intended to create the usual trade show centered on buyers and sellers, but rather to attract all the players involved in the artistic field. It also deals with the relations between the market, collecting and philanthropy, and therefore successfully maintains the TEFAF program for the restoration of museums which, according to them, aims to promote the knowledge exchange between museums and the general public around the value of heritage conservation. To this end, each year from 2012 they allocate up to 50,000 euros to the conservation of different works, depending on the applications that may be presented by the institutions and museums present in the TEFAF. This year 2017 is focused on the restoration and reconstruction of ‘Absolution’ (1900), a previously unseen work by Auguste Rodin that belongs to the French Musée Rodin collection, and the conservation of ‘Judith with the head of Holofernes’ (1570), one of the versions that Titian made about the story in the Deuterocanonical books that has lent itself to so much (remember Judith and Stalin’s head on ‘Judith on the Red Square’, by Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid), exhibited to the public almost constantly since it was acquired by the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1938.
With the occasion of the Maastricht event, the TEFAF Art Market Report 2017 will also be presented, which was led by Rachel A.J. Pownall, who holds the TEFAF Chair in Art Markets at the School of Business Economics at Maastricht University. According to this 2017 market analysis, worldwide art sales reached 45 billion dollars in 2016, an increase of almost 1.7% compared to 2015. Although this may surprise some, the continent with the highest volume of business has again been Europe, with sales exceeding 20.5 billion dollars, followed by America (14.5 billion dollars) and Asia (almost 10 billion dollars). The report highlights the drop in sales in the auction market (16.9 billion dollars), 18.8% less than the 2015 figure (20.8 billion dollars), with a very significant drop in the United States, where the value of auctioned sales fell 41%, perhaps an advance of what may come to Europe, which has suffered a 13% decrease already.
One of the causes that explains the increase in economic volume while the decline in auction sales is very clear: the market is tilting to private operations (currently accounting for 70% of the total), where guaranteed confidentiality and anonymity are maintained, as opposed to the new disclosure policies that some auction houses are beginning to adopt. Aside from the open debate on whether to allow the hitherto usual opacity in transactions of works of art, let’s also not forget that sometimes the balance between secondary and primary markets comes to play. After all, the value of a work of art is not readily quantifiable, as its exact price is none other than that which someone is willing to pay for it. Of course, if auctions account for no more than 30% of sales, they should not be a good criterion for guessing what the most appropriate price for a work is.