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Photo credits: Andrea Gavinelli
The art market is constantly changing. The way of collecting has evolved in recent years, moving away from specialization towards a mixture of genres, seeking for epiphanies and “correspondences of amorous senses”.
The recently concluded Brussels Art Fair (BRAFA) 2019, fully understood this trend.
BRAFA has always been heterogeneous, with twenty different specialties, covering the most diverse areas, from archaeology to contemporary art, and without groupings in sections within the exhibition, (as at TEFAF, for example); last year already, the concept of an eclectic Wunderkammer was on display at BRAFA, thanks to the newcomer Theatrum Mundi. That idea has been the most recognizable figure of the fair this year.
In a time of rapid expansion of horizons, thanks to geographical and scientific discoveries, collecting and showing natural and artificial wonders was the aim of the Renaissance “studiolo”, as much as of the Cabinets of Curiosities, which appeared in the 16th and 17th centuries in high-class families, often a first step towards the establishment of museums.
The desire to flabbergast visitors remains, but the current push seems more to be the desire to mix, a kind of globalization, but also a claim to the right to overturn the hierarchy of classical values and question the division into genres; perhaps a refusal to accept an orderly view of the world that ultimately failed.
The response to the eclecticism of the actual taste at Brafa was to be found in many exhibits who expanded the concept of Wunderkammer proposing, possibly to interest new collectors, many curiosities with affordable prices but with refined taste, different from the contemporary artworks that usually attract the younger audience. But it also echoed in the “room of wonders” filled with the most prestigious pieces ever traded, proposed by the Royal Chamber of Art Dealers of Belgium, to celebrate 100 years since its foundation.
The other remarkable aspect of this edition was the gradual but inexorable path towards contemporary art. Contemporary art galleries, although they still did not outnumber those of ancient art, were bigger and more visible.
The president of BRAFA in recent interviews reported how difficult it is to renew and extend the offer in old masters. Quality candidates in this area appear to be numerically inferior to those of contemporary and modern art. The only exception this year was Sandro Morelli’s Gallery (Italian, based in Florence) a new entry presenting medieval art.
The report published on the website states that Morelli sold a late fifteenth-century Lombard wooden safe, whose price was around 120,000 euros. The report is an interesting read (click on the link to see it), for comparison with the performances of the other exhibitors and in general for the large number of sales occurred, many of a high quality level.
And if the past, the flabbergasting was often due to “famous Hoaxes” (fakes specially fabricated), at BRAFA they currently openly try to avoid the risk of fakes with a vetting commission of 100 experts to cover the various disciplines.
However, in only one case we saw that test results exposed (a C14 analysis to confirm the dating of a 16th century Madonna).
Can the attraction for small objects also depend on the fact that no one wants to risk large sums in assets for which there is no established way to be sure of authorship and therefore of value?
The star of the exhibition is definitely a RUBENS, recently rediscovered, after appearing at Christie’s auction in Paris in 2015, but with an attribution to “Paul de Vos and atelier Rubens”.
A careful eye, and probably a consultation of the “Corpus Rubenianum” where the painting was presented as van Thulden, led Klaas Muller to win the work for 145,000 euros.
Not only Rubens, at the fair, but also Jacob Jordaens, and many other Flemish, along with modern art, where several Legers stand out (we counted at least 6) as a tribute to the exhibition that will soon be open in Brussels, and lots of contemporary art. But also African art, jewelry to turn heads, archeology and design. 10000 objects of all prices from one thousand to one million. We are now waiting to see how successful it has been in terms of sales, but we already saw several dots on the tags.
In the year of Hieronymus Bosch (500 years after his death) to see his works you could go to his hometown, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, (or, as the Dutch say, Den Bosch) in the Netherlands, otherwise in Vienna or Berlin… To buy them instead, you could go to BRAFA, the antique fair in Brussels, where available for sale were the works of one of his followers, Pieter Huys (about 1519-about 1581), and his school (two tablets of 28×38 cm each: “The temptation of St. Anthony”, “St. Christopher”), and an incision ( “Judgment day” from one of his paintings, about 1548-1570). The fair ended on January 29th, with 132 exhibitors from around the world, with a positive trend, growing year after year, as the quality of the works proposed and its attractiveness to buyers. Someone already compares it to the best known TEFAF of the Dutch cousins, with which, however, competes with more “reasonable prices”, in some case even openly exposed to the public. If Bosch is not your thing, you could find a “cassone” from Scheggia (1406-1486), along with remarkable “old masters” and from a large group of Flemish painters, two works of Le Corbusier, three Renoir, four Chagall, Matisse, Pissarro, up to Haring.
We were pleased to note that scientific analyses, especially imaging ones, are increasingly produced to support the painting descriptions, such as in the catalogue of Jan Muller Antiques, where X-rays and reflectography appear.
But still many works could be investigated, to confirm or refute attributions or simply to get to know better the practices of the various workshops. For example by comparing the technique of “Portrait of Cardinal Bentivoglio” of Van Dijk, now at Palazzo Pitti in Florence, and the version attributed to his circle proposed by Klaas Muller Antiques in BRAFA, or again from the same antiquarian, the specimen of “Hercules fighting the lion”, of which another copy exists at the New York MET! Science, anyone?