Last weekend, the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) rolled into New York for its second splash in America. As with the Old Masters edition in late October 2016, the Maastricht-based art fair again found a formidable home in the Park Avenue Armory. This time, however, the fair invited galleries to represent the very finest of modern and contemporary art and design, providing the Gothic Revivalist venue with twice the challenge it overcame with such grace in the fall.
The result was nothing short of remarkable and might have solidified TEFAF as one of New York’s top modern and contemporary art fairs moving forwards. As with the Old Masters edition, guests were invited to walk throughout three rows of galleries in the main hall as well as a main corridor off of which several more galleries were invited to carefully curate their presentation within the Armory’s period rooms. Whereas one might have expected the venue to oppose the artwork it played host to, the overall effect was instead a mutually respectful conversation between different eras, and an excellent atmosphere for galleries to exhibit in.
From one exhibitor to another, visitors were presented with an incredible breadth of 20th century art, reminding guests of how powerfully art reacts, reflects, and responds to the ever-changing circumstances in which it is produced and in which it is appreciated. Among the many sculptures found throughout the fair, I was particularly drawn to Yufuku Gallery, whose artists (including Niyoko Ikuta, Osamu Yokoyama) combine traditional techniques with a sleek aesthetic that is both elegant and dynamic. One could also find more widely recognized Western sculpture in the booth of Offer Waterman, who exhibited Henry Moore’s ‘Stringed Figure’ (Moore sculptures were all over the Armory, though not possibly to the same extent as works by Lucio Fontana, whose slashes were seemingly in every other gallery’s booth. This was a great chance to see Moore’s work if you didn’t have a chance to see Maxwell Davidson Gallery’s survey exhibition on the artist. Eykyn Maclean exhibited Henry Moore’s ‘Three Figures’, a wonderful drawing that shows the artist’s natural transition from one medium to another. Eykyn Maclean also had Naum Gabo’s ‘Linear Construction in Space No.2’, a later work by the Russian artist that demonstrates a remarkable balance between delicacy and mass; evidence of an artist who by this time had polished his artistic expression.
On the subject of Russian artists, I had to make a stop at James Butterwick, displaying impressive Russian and Ukrainian works from the early 20th century. Here, visitors were given a true taste of the early modern in Russia. I was taken back by the diversity of works on display, including a wonderful still life by Alexander Archipenko, and a panel entitled Promenade Gracieuse, an early Kandinsky with Art Deco influences. Most notable perhaps was Boris Kustodiev’s ‘On the Riverbank’, a watercolor depicting an idyllic Soviet man and woman relaxing on the banks of a river with Moscow on the horizon. One is ever more captivated when considering this work in the context of the artist’s continually developing depiction of the monumental changes brought about by the Russian Revolution; the image sublime but tranquil in comparison with his iconic painting “The Bolshevik”.
Galerie Gmurzynska was perhaps the ultimate highlight; reason for which it has been noted in nearly every article on this season’s TEFAF. Walking on both sides of the line between modern and post-war art, the gallery boldly announced itself in New York. A 19th century chandelier creeps into a futuristic, concrete, LED-lit room, filled with 20th century masterpieces. Conceived by bureau betak, a walk through the room was an experience in itself, to which was added astounding works such as a large Roberto Matta. Tucked away behind a reflective wall, one stumbled upon an El Lissitzky ‘Self-Portrait’, a classic multilayer photograph by a modern master, in addition to a small acrylic work by Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, the perfect way to end my day at TEFAF.