One of the world’s largest art fairs opens its doors this weekend in the Netherlands, with organisers saying they have thrown a ring of steel around it after a brazen heist last year.
From Saturday until March 19, visitors at The European Fine Art Fair, better known as TEFAF, will be able to view a treasure trove of the world’s greatest artworks for sale in the southern city of Maastricht.
But after Covid-19 forced the fair online in 2021, it hit the headlines again last year when thieves smashed a display case before making off with jewellery worth millions of euros in an audacious robbery.
The raid hit the organisation hard, TEFAF’s Head of Fairs Will Korner said, but he stressed the fair wanted to put the incident behind it.
“It was a horrible experience. The worst part was the repercussive effect that it had on a lot of people,” he told AFP.
Dubbed the “Peaky Blinders” heist because the robbers wore flat caps like those in the British crime drama, the loot included a yellow 114 carat diamond worth a reported 27 million euros ($28.5 million).
Dutch police last week said they were closing in on the gang, believed to be a sophisticated organised crime group based in the Balkans. They also recovered one stolen item but the diamond remains missing.
“We worked on what we should be doing for 2023, such as security gates at the entrance of the fair… and many other measures I won’t talk about for obvious reasons,” said Korner.
On a day reserved for art dealers, AFP journalists noticed increased security staff. Bags were searched at the entrance and exit.
While London jewellery dealer Symbolic & Chase, the targets of last year’s robbery, did not return, exhibitors said they felt safe with the extra security measures.
“We have all these gates. It’s like entering an airport, so it takes some time, but we all feel happy about it,” Amsterdam-based exhibitor Paul van Rosmalen said.
“This year, I have the feeling that it’s been done perfectly,” he told AFP.
“They have hugely tightened security,” added Milo Dickinson, of the London-based Dickinson art dealerships, adding: “TEFAF is the most secure art fair in the world, I am sure.”
Organisers stressed they wanted to put the robbery behind them and have visitors focus on the amazing art on display, in what is often called a “super museum” for the duration of the exhibit.
“This year it’s certainly a feeling that we are back in the groove. We know what we need to do,” Korner said.
Art for sale ranged from old masters like Flemish Baroque master Anthony van Dyck, through ancient Chinese and modern South Korean art, to the first printed map of Amsterdam from around 1544.
The print’s asking price is 395,000 euros, according to its price tag on display.
Jewellery is also up for sale, including a Bulgari-designed emerald and diamond “Trombino” ring featuring an emerald of 10.4 carats.
Another work for sale is French Pointillist Paul Signac’s 1924 painting of the Dutch port of Rotterdam, asking price 3.8 million euros.
TEFAF however was more than just putting up art for sale, exhibitors insisted.
In one remarkable coincidence, the London-based Dickinson dealers discovered that a silver “tazza” — a type of 17th century goblet featured in their 1648 painting by Dutch master Willem Claesz Heda — was actually on display just a few corners away.
“An amazing find,” said Dickinson.