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TEFAF, the art market for the super rich opens in Maastricht

Stefan Dege sh
March 10, 2017

The TEFAF in Maastricht is a pilgrimage site for wealthy art lovers from all over the world. Will this year's fair be as successful as previous years?

The European Fine Art Fair TEFAF
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. van Hoorn

If dozens of private jets from the US or Asia are landing at Maastricht-Aachen airport and hotel prices in the region are skyrocketing, then it's TEFAF time. From March 10-19, the conference hall in this city in the south of the Netherlands is transformed into the most exclusive auction house in the world.

Regardless of whether it's jewelry, rugs, furniture, porcelain or paintings, when it comes to up-market home furnishings, this fair does not leave any wish unfulfilled. Missing a sculpture from Henry Moore for your estate? They also take checks over 30 billion euros.

TEFAF stands for "The European Fine Art Fair." This year, the art and antique collection opens for the 30th time. It all started at the end of the 1980s, when a small circle of traders of Old Master paintings came together at an antique convention. Initially, the idea of such an event taking place in a small town was laughed at. Major cities like London, Munich and Paris already had similar fairs. What would entice visitors to come to Maastricht, a small city of 120,000 people?

An international recipe for success

The founders of TEFAF set their sights on being international and presenting a wide variety of quality pieces. Only the largest and most specialized traders in the gallery scene were eligible to have a stand at the fair. Old Master paintings were a special focal point, as they still are today.

TEFAF's success has proved that its founders had the right idea. Today, visitors, including many from the museum scene, hail from 55 countries. Maastricht has now long been a pilgrimage site for super rich looking for art to invest in, or to pick up for their costly personal collections.

Since the founding of TEFAF, the art market has more than doubled. In its peak year in 2007, the annual turnover was 48 billion euros. In their annual Art Market Report, the organizers reported a turnover of 42 billion euros, an increase of 1.7 percent after a significant decline in 2015. Trade appears to be flourishing once again.

However, such figures actually say very little. Sales numbers in the art world are hard to grasp, since galleries rarely release them, preferring to keep them secret. In its 30th anniversary year, the TEFAF is praised as "a marketplace without competition" and a leading venue for art dealers and specialists all over the world. On offer are pieces of "extremely unique quality and provenance," with the prices available upon request. To be sure, when the rich and beautiful fly in to shop in Maastricht on the weekend, they will have their fun - and the art its price.