In with the new
How Tefaf in Maastricht, the grande dame of art fairs, is hoping to seduce young buyers.
FT — Life & Arts
“It’s good to see the grey-haired German industrialists out in force,” quipped one onlooker at the European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) in Maastricht last year on seeing the hordes (72,000 in total) of well-heeled, mature collectors surging through the entrance hall adorned with 11,000 white roses. The fair, still seen by trade specialists as a market bellwether, includes more than 25 sections, from modern art to manuscripts, and is traditionally strong in Old Master paintings and medieval sculpture. But fresh faces were few and far between with the usual collector demographic, aged 40-plus, in abundance.
Crucially, Tefaf’s management has grasped that it must attract both younger collectors and dealers if it is to thrive for another 25 years (the fair celebrated its silver jubilee last year, when only 16.5 per cent of visitors from 1,900 surveyed said they were under 40). The result is the Young Dealers’ Committee, which was established last year with six young gallerists for members. “Tefaf’s first generation of dealers and collectors are nearing retirement. This issue has never been tackled: how do we bring in a new generation of collectors?” asks 38-year-old committee member Daniel Crouch, who runs a rare books and maps dealership in London.
Their plans involve submitting “one or two ideas” annually to the Tefaf board. This year, the committee intends to build a database of development directors at museums and libraries worldwide. “We realised that with the increasing professionalisation of fundraising at such institutions, there is a resource that can be marshalled,” says Crouch. In return, potential patrons targeted through the new initiative are offered tours of the fair and complimentary tickets.
But it’s not just new collectors who are being sought “This is also an issue for the dealers. There is a generation gap between galleries; there are fewer dealers aged between 35 and 45 at Tefaf,” says another committee member, 40-year-old Emanuel von Baeyer of London, who deals in European drawings and paintings from the 15th to the 20th century.
New sections such as Showcase, a platform for emerging galleries introduced in 2008, have nonetheless kept the fair fresh with varying degrees of success. “I was impressed by some of the Chinese visitors last year, a lot of them around 25, who were genuinely interested in finding out about western art,” says Jonathan Green, a director at Richard Green gallery in London, which specialises in Old Masters and Impressionist works.
Some thirty-something visitors to the fair also appreciate its more rarefied atmosphere. “I like that you can talk to people who are experts in their fields, and learn about objects you may have never known existed: Japanese short swords anyone?” says 32-year-old London-based collector Jack Kirkland. “And the length of the fair [March 15–24 this year] means that it doesn’t have any of the enervating freneticism of other fairs.”
Kirkland, whose family founded the Bowmer & Kirkland construction company, is one of a growing number of young, affluent collectors whose buying interests cross over between different genres and media, with works dating from 1,000BC to 2008 on display in his living room.
Crossover buyers can move fairly fluidly around Tefaf’s strictly delineated sections – although the fair is not on the map for most contemporary art collectors. New fairs such as Masterpiece in London, which was launched in 2010, are targeting the same cross-over, aspirational buyers.
The organisers of Masterpiece hope to draw in potential collectors by creating an all-round deluxe experience, comprising classic cars, boats, wines, a plush restaurant run by Le Caprice and a trove of prestigious art and antiques.
Last summer, the fair was noticeably full of moneyed young men and women keen to part with their cash. “The client base is changing … the crowd we see at Masterpiece is definitely a younger average audience than we were used to seeing at the [defunct] Grosvenor House fair,” says Masterpiece co-founder and antique furniture dealer Harry Apter.
Frieze Masters, a Frieze London spin-off that was launched last October in Regent’s Park, aims “to present a unique contemporary perspective on historical art”, displaying works made before 2000. More than 28,000 visitors attended the inaugural fair, and in a visitor survey of 1,000 people, 61 per cent were aged under 45. (A striking statistic – although the first edition may have piqued the curiosity, rather than opened the purses, of new buyers. The Art Newspaper reported last year that Old Masters sales at the fair were slow.)
Frieze Masters has shaken up the scene too, prompting questions about how the next generation of collectors can be enticed by pre-20th-century art. Turning young contemporary collectors on to underperforming markets could, after all, transform current sales dynamics. “The contemporary market is overpriced and the Old Masters market is underpriced,” says the veteran New York-based Old Masters dealer Richard Feigen.
It is an observation not lost on Michael Plummer of Artvest Partners, a New York-based group that advises collectors. Plummer has pinpointed a “sea- change” in buying in the late 1990s, when art and design prior to the advent of modernism began to look outdated to new collectors entering the market.
But he is optimistic, stressing that fresh blood could bolster vulnerable areas of the market: “It could be that the huge price rise in contemporary western art and 20th-century decorative arts could drive new collectors back to other sectors, such as American paintings (pre-1950) and American, English and French furniture, which are now relative bargains.”
New buyers with less disposable income may be tempted to dabble and invest in more affordable areas of the market; a budget of £10,000 will get you on a rung of the antiquities buying ladder. The Swiss dealer Jean-David Cahn will bring more than 100 pieces to Tefaf costing less than SFr25,000 (£17,600), including a bust of Alexander the Great from the Ptolemaic Period, third-second century BC (SFr14,500/£10,200). However, certain sectors, such as 19th-century furniture, may be a harder sell to youthful clients.
New technology could help draw in a younger demographic, boosting crossover collecting in the process, says Plummer. Online art businesses, mainly catering to the middle market, may deliver “a product that is to the art market what Pandora [an online streaming service] is to music”, says the art adviser, citing the art database Artsy.net. The site, which does not gather data on its clients’ ages, puts forward “specialists” who connect potential buyers to galleries. Dealers pay Artsy a commission, ranging from 1 to 6 per cent depending on the price. The average age, meanwhile, of users of the ExhibitionA website, which sells limited-edition prints by established artists, is 38.
The internet is slowly but surely providing a more accessible route for novice buyers into the market. An anonymous Brussels-based forty-something collector of celestial charts, a regular at Tefaf, says: “The internet has made the art market so much more transparent.” He occasionally places bids online at auction, a growing buying trend.
Sotheby’s highlights that in 2012 collectors aged 20 to 40 were increasingly buying on the web and in the saleroom, with the greatest activity coming from Asia (44 per cent), closely followed by Europe (33 per cent) and North America (18 per cent). The list of the top 10 categories based on number of lots purchased by this demographic makes for interesting reading: wine tops the list, followed by Chinese ceramics and then books and manuscripts.
This “younger, newer money” is welcome at Tefaf, says Peter Fairbanks of San Francisco’s Montgomery Gallery, who has participated in all but three Maastricht fairs since 1988. He is hopeful that instead of splashing out on works by Warhol and Hirst, young collectors will spend “the fraction of a price” on a rare 15th-century carved polychrome figure of a fallen angel by Tilman Riemenschneider. Tefaf Young Dealers Committee, a small but significant step in changing perceptions, recognises that the grande dame of art fairs cannot put up her feet just yet.
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