All You Need to Know About the TEFAF Online Art Fair 2020

TEFAF has announced plans for a new digital platform amid COVID-19 concerns. Here are the details on the upcoming online art fair and its vetting process.

Oct 19, 2020By Charlotte Davis, BA Art History
Drill Hall, TEFAF New York Spring 2019 photographed by Mark Niedermann, via TEFAF;
Greek Corinthian Helmet, circa 550-500 B.C., via Safani Gallery, Inc.


TEFAF, the prestigious, world-leading fair for fine art, antiques and design is going online. The upcoming Fall fair would normally be held in New York, featuring items spanning from antiquity to early modernism. However, due to ongoing restrictions and concerns regarding COVID-19, TEFAF has announced that it will be going digital for its upcoming annual art fair with its new platform TEFAF Online. The online fair is expected to maintain the organization’s impeccable vetting standard through close examination of every object with a rigorous online vetting process. 


The inaugural fall 2020 fair will hold two preview days on October 30th and 31st, with the main event taking place between November 1st and 4th. It will feature 300 exhibitors directly from TEFAF’s global community. 


The original art fair, TEFAF New York Fall, which was called off earlier in the year over COVID-19 concerns, was meant to be held between October 31st and November 4th. 


TEFAF Online: Going Digital

TEFAF Online 2020 Highlight: Ming Dynasty Kinrande Vase, 1st half of the 16th century, via Jorge Welsh Works of Art, London


The 300 exhibitors will “continue TEFAF’s tradition of presenting only the finest quality” by selecting one piece of art each to showcase at the 2020 fall fair. This new “masterpiece format” aims to put forth the highest quality items from each respective exhibitor, with contextual descriptions, images and videos explaining why the exhibitor chose to showcase that specific item, as well as their areas of interest and specialty. There will also be a live interactive component on the online platform, enabling collectors, dealers and exhibitors to engage directly with one another. 


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TEFAF Online is to become a permanent feature for the art fair: “As the global art community experiences limited mobility with travel restrictions and social distancing, we are proud to bring to fruition our hope to make art in all its varied forms more accessible via digital innovation,” said Chairman Hidde van Seggelen, “This new platform allows TEFAF’s respected exhibitors to be just a click away to new and existing collectors alike, and we look forward to developing it into a permanent feature alongside future TEFAF Fairs.” 


The World’s Leading Art Fair

Entrance of Drill Hall, TEFAF New York Spring 2019 photographed by Mark Niedermann, via TEFAF


The European Fine Art Fair (more commonly known by its abbreviation TEFAF) is “widely regarded as the world’s premier fair for fine arts, antiques and design.” Established in 1988, it runs as a non-profit foundation and holds an impressive history showcasing fine art from a network of top international dealers. This unparalleled network provides a gold standard of top-quality items that span every category of art from ancient times to the modern day. TEFAF runs three international art fairs; Maastricht, New York Fall and New York Spring. 


TEFAF Maastricht is the world’s top fair of fine art and antiques. Held at the MECC (Maastricht Exhibition & Congress Center), the fair boasts the finest works on the art market from “over 275 prestigious dealers from 20 countries.” It exhibits a range of museum-quality pieces that span 7,000 years of art history, including Old Master paintings, antiquities, contemporary art and jewelry. This impressive collection draws around 74,000 visitors annually, including art dealers, curators and collectors. 


Park Avenue Armory, TEFAF New York Fall 2019 photographed by Mark Niedermann, via TEFAF


TEFAF New York Fall covers fine and decorative art spanning from antiquity until 1920. Held in November in New York City’s Park Avenue Armory, the New York Fall fair exhibits a range of pieces from the world’s most prominent galleries and art dealers. The showcase includes but is not limited to antique bronzes and furniture, ancient pottery, Old Master paintings, oriental rugs, jewelry, luxury textiles and architectural models. 


TEFAF New York Spring focuses on modern and contemporary art and design. Located in the Park Avenue Armory like its fall counterpart, the fair is held in May to coincide with spring auctions and exhibitions held in New York. The New York Spring fair has showcased museum-quality modern and post-war works of art by world-class artists including Pablo Picasso, Otto Dix, Louise Bourgeois, Gerhard Richter, Frank Auerbach and Simone Leigh, among many others. There is also a sizeable collection of fine art, design, antique and jewelry items. 


The Vetting Process 

A member of the vetting committee examining an art object, via Medium


One of the elements that sets TEFAF apart from other art organizations is its unrivaled vetting process. The organization brings together a vetting committee made up of the world’s top experts spanning a multitude of disciplines; this includes curators, conservators, academics, independent scholars and conservation scientists. The committee’s expertise covers all aspects and movements of fine arts, antiques and design. They are also provided with state-of-the-art scientific tools at both Maastricht and New York, which ensure that an organization-wide standard of excellence is upheld. 


Each work is closely examined by the committee to maintain accuracy and consistency within the vetting procedure. The process begins with an examination: “Experts consider the condition of the work, and where it stands within the body of an artist’s work, that is, whether it is an iconic example of the artist and the particular period of their production.” There is also a scientific component to the vetting process, in which the committee identifies the materials used and the item’s state of preservation in order to determine its value. 


How Will Digital Vetting Work?

TEFAF Online 2020 Highlight: Greek Corinthian Helmet, 550-500 BC, via Safani Gallery Inc., New York


To keep with COVID-19 safety guidelines, TEFAF has announced that its 2020 Online Fair will implement a rigorous digital vetting process. In their statement, they say: “Digital vetting cannot compete with physical vetting as regards the possibility of scientific analysis supported by a fully equipped scientific research team…However, TEFAF will endeavor to provide the most stringent possible digital vetting procedure, which can best be compared to the pre-vetting of objects included in fair catalogues and for pre-fair marketing purposes.”


The digital vetting process will adhere to TEFAF’s standards and guidelines, but the items will not be vetted in-person. Rather, the exhibitors are given thorough guidelines to provide adequate information about their submitted item: high-resolution images of their item including signatures or hallmarks if applicable with a full description of the item; reports/verification of the item’s provenance and authenticity; any professional conservation documentation, including any examination/treatment/condition reports; any import or export records; and any applicable permits. 


TEFAF Online 2020 Highlight: Profile against a blue ground by Odilon Redon, 1899, via Wildenstein and Co. Inc., New York


The vetting committee will then receive a link for access to the art items uploaded by the exhibitors (one each) within their fields of expertise. The committee will review each item with all the online materials provided and amend any descriptions if necessary, acting in accordance with TEFAF’s strict formatting and vetting standards. The submitted art objects will not be accepted for display unless they are approved by their relevant committee.


TEFAF will also check every item against the Art Loss Register (ALR), the “world’s largest privately managed database of stolen, missing or looted works of art and antiquities.” The ALR database holds 500,000 items that are lost, stolen, or subject to dispute or loan. If any submitted item is found to be subject to a claim on the ALR database, it will be removed from the fair. Additionally, any items not found on the register will be given a “checked by the Art Loss Register” statement online. 


TEFAF: Championing The Art Industry 

The Hallway Inside TEFAF Maastricht 2020, via TEFAF


Since its inception, TEFAF has brought together an international network of the top galleries and dealers who inspire collectors and art lovers, creating a worldwide community of art buyers, sellers and admirers. This community holds expertise in every category of fine arts, antiques and design. The organization further cultivated this community with its expansion into the New York art world in 2016 and 2017.


TEFAF uses this wide breadth of expertise to publish an annual Art Market Report, which “shine[s] a light onto an area of the market that is under-researched or in the process of change.” It gathers data on the annual trading of arts and antiques as well as auction results and private sales, which paint a picture of the current art market industry and any new trends. This report holds considerable authority and the report published during the Maastricht art fair is now considered “an industry standard.” This maintains the organization’s position as an authoritative provider of an independent overview of current trends within the art market.

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By Charlotte DavisBA Art HistoryCharlotte is a contributing writer from Portland, Oregon now based in London, England. I’m an art historian with extensive knowledge in art history, classics, ancient art and archaeology.