Who buys what? Collectors in action at BRAFA

Oct 25, 2020 | Authentications & attributions

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?


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