The trend for cross-collecting — breaking the standard genre boundaries that divide Modern from contemporary, Old Master from ancient — is in full swing. A number of fairs across the world, among them Tefaf in Maastricht, Frieze Masters and Masterpiece in London, include crossover collaborations — an example is Hauser & Wirth’s now regular partnering with Moretti Fine Art at Frieze Masters, bringing the contemporary nose-to-nose with more historic pieces.
Now Tefaf New York Fall — whose fourth edition is currently running at New York’s Armory — is making a feature of “dynamic pairing”, jointly curated booths that showcase collaborations across the art historical range.
Historic works have traditionally been Tefaf’s heartland. For this edition, the 90 galleries range over antiques, design, rare books and manuscripts, jewellery, armour, the decorative arts as well as fine art from across the centuries. And, as CEO Patrick van Maris puts it, the quest for “thought-provoking experiences” at the fair has led, this time, to these special collaborations.
Rob Smeets Old Master Paintings, based in Geneva, teams up with New York’s Van der Weghe gallery, which specialises in Modern, postwar and contemporary work. Another New York contemporary gallery, Sean Kelly, pairs up with British antiquities expert Charles Ede, whose director Martin Clist explains their aim to show how significant works from different eras are “all part of one great continuum”. One of his examples is a pairing of heads: a 1st-2nd century BC Greek marble head is placed with Marina Abramovic’s photographic “Portrait with Golden Mask” (2009), showing the artist crowned, goddess-like, in golden leaves.
Other, still more experimental, partnerships include Anne-Sophie Duval, go-to gallery for French Art Deco, with contemporary work from Almine Rech. Basel’s Cahn gallery, specialists in ancient Greek and Roman art, creates a crossover vision with the 20th-century work from Barcelona’s Galeria Mayoral. Colnaghi’s classical sculptures and Cycladic vessels stand in happy contrast to works by Lucio Fontana and Antoni Tapies shown by Ben Brown Fine Arts.
Such partnerships are, of course, intended for mutual benefit. Even the most established galleries constantly need to renew and increase their range of clients and collectors; sharing a booth with a gallery from a different genre or period puts each in touch with an entirely new interest group.
Normally, it’s reckoned to be the more numerous and deep-pocketed contemporary collectors who can be lured into the rarefied sphere of Old Masters and antiquities. Yet devotees of the traditional can be tempted by more recent art if it is placed in context by careful curation, and so made to seem less alien.
Above all, what these juxtapositions reflect is how the majority of people actually live with art: few collectors only have pieces from a single style or period on their walls. Daily life throws different styles together, even if it’s only a comfortable chair in an otherwise strictly minimalist interior. And the “eye” that can place an African tribal mask on an Art Deco table, a Hellenic vase beneath a 20th-century drawing, enhancing both styles, is what’s on offer in these collaborative booths.
That might sound a little too close to interior decor for the super-rich. However, collaborations across the art of ages can provide eye-opening delight and surprising discovery for buyers and viewers alike.
To November 5, tefaf.com
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