Tefaf and Sotheby’s link up for push into China

Mar 24th, 2013 | By | Category: Journal


Sotheby’s has partnered with Tefaf, the European Fine Art Fair, which finishes today in Maastricht, to launch an art fair in Beijing in September 2014. Tefaf said they were “exploring the possibilities” of developing the event via Sotheby’s joint venture with GeHua, which will enable it to hold sales in the Beijing Freeport and maybe elsewhere.

The new envisaged fair would be a mini Tefaf and have the same stringent vetting policy that has made the fair the leader in its field.

Up to a 100 dealers covering Old Master paintings, European works of art, modern painting and Jewellery will be represented. Ben Janssens, the Oriental artworks dealer who is Tefaf chairman, said that Sotheby’s had proposed the idea, “and I said yes straight away.”  So far Chinese art buying has focused mainly on Chinese art, both contemporary and antique and their interest in Western art has been sporadic.  Both Sotheby’s, and the dealers involved in Tefaf are hoping the new fair will encourage the rich Chinese to start widening the scope of their buying.

Tefaf has been trying to expand into the Chinese market for a while – last year by bringing in a group of potential buyers. However, so far, like others who have invested in this market, they have not seen much return for their efforts.  This year the fair saw very few Asian visitors.   Both Sotheby’s and Tefaf have been eying up the Chinese market but finding it difficult to break into.  Part of this is due to the unreliability of the information that comes out of China regarding its art market which is unregulated and results are often rigged or wildly exagerated.  In addition China is a graveyard of Western businesses who have tried to do business there and given up.

“Because of the joint venture, we will be able to sell directly to the Chinese, and Sotheby’s will be a help because of its database of clients there,” Janssens said. Robin Woodhead, Sotheby’s Chairman, at the recent art fair in Dubia added: “China represents new opportunities in the art world, and our relationship with GeHua gives us a gateway into that market.”

Tefaf dealers are however, wary of doing a partnership with Sotheby’s.  Sotheby’s and Christie’s in recent years have made a significant push into private sales directly taking business away from the dealers.  The dealers have built up the art fairs such as Tefaf in an effort to maintain their parity with the auction houses.  Janssens, however, appears to see a partnership as moving with the times.  When asked whether Sotheby’s would be allowed to have a stand at the new  Tefaf Beijing, he said diplomatically, “We haven’t discussed that detail yet. Yes, in a way this venture represents a change of direction, but times are changing as well, and it is the chance to work with a partner we know and trust. Dealers all work from time to time with the auction houses.”

Whilst Tefaf are pushing into China they are taking the opposite view of the Russian market.  They have neither allowed any Russian dealers to participate at Tefaf nor supplied any Russian speaking guides to take Russian clients around the fair.  When asked about this they cite problems of authenticity and also point to the problems that the World Fine Art Fair had with Russian customs when they tried for several years(2003 – 2008) to operate a now abandoned fair at the Manege in Moscow.  Russian customs made it very expensive to temporarily import the artworks to Russia and also nervewracking for dealers by impounding artworks at Russian customs.  The dealers who tried this fair also found the Russians preferred to buy their art in New York and London.

That said, it does seem suprising that Tefaf make so little effort to attract the Russian art buyers.


Tags: art buying, Chinese art market, russian art buying, Russian art market., Sotheby's, Tefaf, Tefaf Beijing

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