A visit to booth 422 was worthwhile. This is whereAxel Vervoordtpitched. Among the many extraordinary and selected, he is the special, the exception. As he surprises and inspires again and again, this art dealer from Antwerp gives glamour, prestige and also a touch of mystery. The company, founded around forty years ago, has long since been transformed into the Axel Vervoordt Company, a family business run by Vervoordt’s eldest son Boris, while his younger son Dicky devotes himself to real estate. Project development, a no less profitable branch. Axel Verwoort has appointed himself émience grise of his company. Together with his wife May, he launched the Vervoordt Foundation last year. At the Quadriennale in Düsseldorf (Sep. 2010 to Jan. 2011), the Foundation will present itself for the first time at the Langen Foundation at the Hombroich rocket station. There she will dedicate an extensive exhibition to the work of Jef Verheyen, the Belgian member of the ZERO movement. Vervoordt is a member of the board of the ZERO Foundation. With Artempo and In-finitum at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice in 2007 and 2009 he showed samples of his talent as an exhibition organizer.
AVC is one of the few dealer companies to publish company figures. Sales increased from 18.8 million in 2004 to 30.66 last year. The art and antiques department increased its share to 76 percent. The two buildings, the moated castle Gravenwezel and the canal just outside Antwerp, employ 85 people.
But back to Maastricht. In the middle of the magnificent, heavily laden old master stalls of his international colleagues, Verwoordt placed a wabi shelf – a replica of a Buddhist library from Korea in the 8th century. Made of used lumber, only lightly whitewashed, this wall-high shelf stood on both sides of the spacious exhibition berth. In it, as essential wabi objects, two earthen tea bowls by Kichizaemon Raku with the title “Great Master of Destiny”. The little-known Kichizaemon XV already represents the 15th generation of his family, the Raku from Kyoto. With their focus on monochromacy and their acceptance of the imperfect, the Raku objects embody the wabi in an almost perfect way. Axel Vervoordt is currently working on a new book, “A Way of Wabi”, which will be published later this year and will introduce deeper into the secrets of this ancient and at the same time contemporary art. Wabi is regarded by him as the art of understanding simplicity as the ultimate refinement, which praises the imperfect and the unfinished as effortless beauty. Wabi offers a welcome alternative and answer to the current crisis of the financial world and the concepts associated with it. The Wabi shelf is recommended as a “Billy” for advanced users. Praise of simplicity, effortlessly combining tradition and avant-garde, simplicity for all layers, timeless clay bowls instead of animal halves in formaldehyde, Mr. Wabi instead of Dr. Hype.
But Axel Vervoordt wouldn’t be the great Zampano of the art and antiques department if he didn’t fill the wabi shelf with ZERO art of our day (Piene, Mack, Uecker, Verheyen, Fontana, Manzoni) and Gutai, the Asian offshoot of ZERO. In addition, there are archaeological finds from ancient Egypt and a 290 m high tjuringa of the Aborigines, which was used in initiation rites on the journey of the young people to masculinity. Most recently, a pair of Kangooroo chairs made of Indian rosewood by Pierre Jeanneret around 1960.
For a long time now, Vervoordt has not placed any ostentatious lace works, no representational art or even dazzling speculative objects on the ramp of his stand, which is centrally located in the Old Masters district. The master of the modern Wunderkammer delivers a whole philosophy of life including matching interior design and if it should be missing, he is also happy to mediate the matching property. Verwoordt uses its trade fair appearance more as a marketing office for the entire range of products offered by the Verwoordt Company. He is interested in perspectives and “optimal conditions”, which is the motto of the new main sponsor of the fair, AXA Art.
Is it an exaggeration to describeTEFAFin Maastricht as an active volcano? On the one hand, his offers reach into the presumed depths of the international art trade down to a marble head from the Geometric Period, created around 2500 BC (Rupert Wace Ancient Art, London), an ancient Egyptian utensil of beauty care from the 15th century BC (Galerie Harmakhis) or the charming Hellenistic terracotta group of a teacher with his boyish pupil from the 3rd to 2nd century BC by Gordian Weber, Cologne. Already at the preview, an ancient Egyptian mummy portrait Fayum changed hands at the London antiquities specialist Charles Ede Ltd. for around 200,000 euros – and yet this art fair is rejuvenating from year to year, taking contemporary art, photography, modern design as a matter of course into its ranks between antique trade, Old Master paintings, jewels, and heavy baroque furnishings.
Of course, this directional fair is not satisfied with the result that in 2010 “the art market remained stable during the economic crisis”. That alone would be a miracle in a severely shaken environment. But high up, near the summit, there is rest. Like every fair, it wants to appear young and report records: 171 landings of private planes were counted, 263 dealers from 17 countries had travelled this year to show the rich from all over the world what other rich (or formerly rich) extract from their collections and carry to market, so that it would be included in other, mostly private collections. The number of visitors to TEFAF increased by about 7 percent compared to the previous year and in 2010 stood at an impressive 72,500. Despite the constantly rejuvenating offer – already a good third of the fair is reserved for modern and contemporary art – the audience is not getting any younger. No wonder. Because prices are kept high, as in the best times of the boom. While the tide rises below, you want to keep dry feet high up.
This can lead to a late work from the Tahitian period by Paul Gaugin being offered for 18 million euros and Sandro Botticelli’s wonderful “Madonna and Child” from the years 1493 – 95 for (only) eleven million euros at the stand of Dickinson (London and New York). Just a few steps further on at Haunch of Venison you stand in front of a glass basin with a pig sawn in the middle in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst and you don’t know what to wonder about: about the courage of the gallery owner to have weighed this heavyweight Hirst pig on the booth, the fat price of 8.8 million euros, or about the early work itself?
At Landau Fine Art from Montreal you could admire the probably most expensive work of the fair, a table-high bronze by Alberto Giacometti for 24 million dollars (edition 4). At this stand alone full of exquisite works of classical modernism, the sum of all works offered for sale amounted to around 30 million dollars. However, neither of these top prizes found a buyer. This is not the case with Bernheimer-Colnaghi (Munich and London). In the first hours of the vernissage, buyers for five paintings were found here. David and Bathsheba by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) moved to a new lover for 5.3 million euros. “This is an encouraging start and confirms TEFAF’s position as the leading trade fair,” Konrad O. Bernheimer promptly stated. The impressive portrait format could already be admired at the stand last year. What counts more than ever: timeless quality, secure values and staying power. All wabi?
C. F. Schröer
© Photographs: Burkhard Maus (Thank you Burkhard!)