The Middlebrow Abroad
A visit to The European Fine Arts Fair in Maastricht
Thanks to The Scholar Wife (Natasha Gural) The Middlebrow and The Renaissance Son were allowed entry to The European Fine Arts Fair (better known as TEFAF) for two invitation-only days of previews of wares by dealers of arts, antiquities, jewelry and rare books from around the world.
While The Middlebrow was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of human achievement on display, The Scholar Wife was able to make sense of it all, detecting the theme of Contemporary Art’s rising prominence and importance in global society. Her first essay about our experience, published at Forbes is elegant, full of life and beautifully written:
The stunning, monumental Portrait of Tarek Ali Ellis and Michael Morgan (2023) oil on linen painting signed and dated by the artist commands a careful exploration into inimitable contemporary master Kehinde Wiley’s unrivaled oeuvre celebrating Black and brown people from around the world. The figures are positioned in the lower half of the canvas, leading our eye through the elaborate decorative background and our mind on an art historical journey. Wiley reimagines a depiction of the Virgin Mary supporting the body of the dead Christ.
That portrait will sell for around $1 million and will hopefully be well-loved and shared with the public, as it will be relevant and vital for decades, if not centuries. The Scholar Wife will have more to say about what we saw at the Fair and I urge you to stay tuned to her page at Forbes. She writes joyfully about art and if you can’t see some of these works yourself (or even if you can) she manages to share her gaze in unique and inspiring ways.
A Middlebrow Subscription is free. The art at TEFAF is not!
As for The Middlebrow, he encountered a massive 1966 publication of Alfred Jarry’s epochal play Ubu Roi, illustrated by Spanish surrealist Joan Miró. The proprietors of London’s Shapero Rare Books kindly turned pages for a teary-eyed Middlebrow short on cash for purchasing the volume but long on interest in Jarry, one of the founding creators of the surrealist mindset.
The surrealists seem forever relevant as a world that seems designed to vex reasonable people grows evermore Kafkaesque. In his play about a mad king of Poland, driven only by his greed and appetites (he has his own conscience murdered on stage), Jarry lampoons all of the oppressors who have ever lived or will ever rule and to The Middlebrow, the ability to at least make fun of these people, as we can’t seem to dislodge them for power, represents hope for a better future.
All art tells a story and TEFAF 2023 presents a vast tale of human struggle met by creative people from antiquity to the present with reactions from whimsy to anger. But it’s not all struggle. There’s also achievement, optimism and, as The Scholar Son demonstrates, always an eye to a better future: