Two exchange students from Singapore visit TEFAF

Wenxin and Rachel, two third-year exchange students from Singapore Management University, visited the TEFAF art fair in Maastricht in March and shared their experience about the event with their friend, Ren.

Ren: Hey Wenxin and Rachel! Congratulations on winning a pair of tickets each to TEFAF! I heard its a huge art fair held annually here at Maastricht. I’ve never been to any art fair before – could you share more about what TEFAF is about?

Wenxin: It’s all thanks to the International Relations Office here at Maastricht University that we got to attend TEFAF 2014 – it was such an enriching experience for both of us.

The European Fine Arts Fair, or TEFAF, is one of the top ten international fine arts fairs in the world. Participating galleries or dealers are handpicked by the committee after going through a strict selection process aimed at ensuring the quality of the works of art on display at the fair.

At TEFAF, dealers sell art at pre-determined prices. There are no auctions, unlike at Sotheby’s. Anyone who is interested in buying art can approach exhibitors to request for catalogues as well as price quotations of art pieces.

Ren: What was your general impression of TEFAF?

Rachel: TEFAF was amazing. It was our first time at an art fair, so everything felt new to us. People were dressed to the nines and it was such a glamorous affair. The whole atmosphere was cosy and casual though, and it was a relaxing afternoon walking through the maze of galleries.

We had only just stepped in and this magnificent wall of roses greeted us – it certainly kept us wondering what other breathtaking works awaited ahead.


Wall of roses at TEFAF 2014 entrance hall

Rachel: There were almost 274 exhibitors in total boasting works from all periods and parts of the world, with their booths grouped together according to specialization: paintings, antiques, jewellery, modern art and design.

Wenxin: There were so many excellent pieces of art from various artists up for sale. You name it, TEFAF’s got it. I had the opportunity to see a myriad of works that I was never able to see in museums, many of which have rarely been available for public viewing. I also found out about so many more great artists through viewing their works first hand.

Rachel: On top of that, there was also a wide variety of artwork at the fair – pieces on display ranged from contemporary to classical art. Prominent artists from then and now were also featured: Vincent Van Gogh, Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol are just a few of the many famous artists whose art appears in exhibitors’ collections.


Damien Hirst’s Styx, made from insects

Rachel: Both Wenxin and I joined the daily Dealers’ Choice tour where we were brought to five different exhibitors’ booths, at which a dealer would tell us about their favourite art pieces or particular art pieces they felt was the highlight of their exhibition. They shared with us on how they acquired the art pieces, why they were unique, as well as the stories behind their creation.


Dealer explaining the construct of this antique: an early radio


Radio No. 1 by Jean Tinguely

Ren: Sounds like you were in for a visual feast! Did any particular work of art stand out for you?

Wenxin: It’s a tough one for me! I was walking down the galleries looking at Modigliani and Cézanne but found myself stopping every now and then, distracted by Fabergé collections and oceanic art along the way. Every piece was a different experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. Rachel on the other hand found something she really liked.

Rachel: You bet! What impressed me the most was definitely Delft art. It looks like Chinese porcelain because during the Dutch Golden Age the Dutch imported porcelain pieces from the Chinese. They subsequently developed their own style of earthenware, which we now know as Delftware.

On closer inspection, you will be able to see intricate floral details etched on Queen Mary II’s robe. These details were all handpainted, sometimes by a brush with just one bristle! The basket that Queen Mary is holding actually has space to hold stalks of fresh tulips. It would make a beautiful display anywhere.


Delftware and tulips — a very Dutch representation indeed!


Delft bouquetière figure of Queen Mary II

Ren: Wow, so who would be the people buying art at TEFAF?

Rachel: TEFAF is open to anyone who is keen on art. Besides private collectors, we have museum curators representing their countries in coming over to seek and purchase art for collection. Names include The Metropolitan Museum New York, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia. Undoubtedly, these are serious business transactions – the value of these purchases can go up to as high as €25 million! This rare Chinese Yuan Dynasty dish, one of three, was one of the pieces that made top sales in TEFAF this year with an asking price of €15 million.


Rare Chinese Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) dish discovered by Littleton & Hennessy

Ren: That’s interesting! It seems like TEFAF has a strong international allure in the arts, given the participation of so many renowned dealers all over Europe. How about in Maastricht itself?

Wenxin: Yes, it definitely does. Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, and it was previously a candidate to become the cultural capital of Europe in 2018. It is definitely more than qualified, boasting over 1600 historical monuments such as the St. Servatius Bridge, which was built in the 13th century and is the oldest bridge in the Netherlands. The Vrijthof square boasts a museum and its Romanesque St. Servatius Basilica, and in other parts of the city you can find various theatres, concert halls as well as art cinemas. To top it all off, there is also the Natural History Museum and the Bonnefantenmuseum, where I spent a great deal of my time  because there were so many magnificent works on display.

And of course, not to mention TEFAF happening in the city every year with Maastricht is decked out in colourful TEFAF banners and flags. In fact, reputable dealers and collectors from all over Europe now know TEFAF as the Maastricht Art Fair, and over the years, TEFAF’s strong and established presence as a quality art fair has put Maastricht in good stead to becoming the cultural haven that travellers should never miss.

Ren: Great to hear that! I guess art is not as incomprehensible as I thought it to be, so attending an art fair would be a good experience after all. Thanks for sharing guys and see you around in school!

By Rachel Chua and Zhang Wenxin
Two exchange students from Singapore Management University at SBE

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