BIAF 2015 places Koons near Michelangelo promising Florence a new Renaissance

Stefano Pirovano

The opening days have proved that this year the Biennale Internazionale dell’Antiquariato in Florence has finally become a top event in the international art scene and after two days of ceremonies, elegant dinners and uncountable handshakes we can affirm that the promises made a few months ago by Fabrizio Moretti, the new General Secretary of the fair, have been indeed kept. Now Italy can finally count on a leading art fair and, what matters more, the new generation of art collectors may have eventually found an highly inspiring territory to explore.


The first goal achieved by BIAF 2015 was to invite an acclaimed contemporary master such as Jeff Koons to add his touch, in this case a blue one, to the event. The two sculptures chosen to be exhibited at Palazzo Vecchio, near giants such as Donatello and Michelagelo, have been criticized for not being the best ones in the artist’s production. But we must say that this time restraint has been Koons’ trump card. We heard some people complaining that his “Pluto and Proserpina” is too small for Piazza della Signoria, and we may add that last year a second “Pluto and Proserpina” was placed by Argentinian developer Eduardo Costantini in one of his most ambitious real estate projects in Miami. But as Koons himself stated during the crowded press conference “we are just dwarf on the shoulders of giants”. That is to say that effectively a bigger sculpture could have been offensive for the David, and for the Florentine people too. As the Major of the city Dario Nardella pointed out “this is still the city of the Guelfi and Ghibellini”. What would have happened placing, for instance, the big “Popeye” beside the David is easy to predict.


Moreover, Koons hasn’t been placed there only to please the tourists. Many leading international contemporary art players attended the dinner set in the enormous “Salone dei Cinquecento”, at the presence of the monumental Vasari’s frescoes, starting from David Zwirner to Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, who proved to be conscious of the new trend by mentioning the recent show by Simon Danny at the Libreria Marciana in Venice – that is another good example of how contemporary art and fine arts are at the moment happy to share the same room. And, even though during a lunch at the Coco Lezzone – the small traditional restaurant a few steps away from the back door of Palazzo Corsini preferred by dealers, journalists and insiders – former Christie’s Co Chairman of Old Masters and 19th Century Richard Knight told to CFA that “at the end of the day no dialogue is possible between contemporary art and old masters”, it is always extremely interesting to listen contemporary art people dialoguing with old masters’ enthusiasts.


On the morning after Koons’ epiphany at Palazzo Vecchio these latter ones seemed quite happy while visiting the BIAF’s collectors preview at Palazzo Corsini, under the beautiful blue Tuscan sky. The renovated vetting committee has done an hard job, changing a certain number of attributions and contesting more than just a couple of secondary pieces. Some dealers got angry. But this kind of approach is exactly what the market needs. Buying a piece from Renaissance or Medieval age is certainly more difficult than buying a piece of contemporary art – especially for those who are used to contemporary art. Furthermore, if your aim is to attract new collectors, trust and confidence are both extremely important values to be pursued. And comfort is important too: none of the big art fairs can count on such an easy and beautiful city centre, with so many hotels and good restaurants all around, just a few steps from the fair’s location.


It follows that Saturday evening there were really many red spots next to the pieces, a considerable part of those due to acquisitions made by dealers themselves. It may prove that: 1) every good dealer is becoming more and more a collector himself; 2) these same dealers buying from other dealers are thinking that the market may have come to a turning point. And that must be the case if, for instance, an expert such as Gian Enzo Sperone declared to have recently bought more than 140 works of art from the 1930s Italian abstract scene as well as the beautiful Daniele Crespi’s brought to Palazzo Corsini by his colleague Cesare Lampronti.


Nicholas Mullany, owner and co director of Mullany Fine Art, explains the decision to return to the BIAF: “Italy is a significant centre for us and the Firenze Biennale is unquestionably the most important of the Italian fairs. It is a small, sophisticated event with the highest standards and an emphasis on early art. It is a very good fit for us and we are delighted to be here again.” Mr. Mullany, who is presenting a beautiful Spanish wooden Corpus Christ (13th Cent.) and a very nice oil panel from the Master of the Egglesberger Altar (late 15th Cent.), continues: “This edition has a more international feel than in previous years and the quality, always high, has increased further. We invited a number of our international clients who have made the trip and we have seen serious collectors from all over Europe, the UK and the United States. The number of senior museum curators, directors and art historians who are attending the event is also increasing . We will certainly return.”


Among the personalities representing Museums who have visited the BIAF in the opening days are to be mentioned Keith Christiansen (Met), Anne-Lise Desmas (J. Paul Getty Museum ), Patrice Marandel (Los Angeles County Museum), Pierre Rosenberg (former director of the Musée du Louvre), Patrik van Maris (CEO Tefaf Maastricht), and of course Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi. The BIAF confirms that also the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Groeninge Museum have sent their representatives. All of them, and sensitive collectors too, must have noticed the expensive “Portrait of a gentleman” by Velazquez on sale for €12 million at Otto Naumann; the “Potrait of a man” attributed to Marco Bigio and already in the collection of Adolf Hitler (at Carlo Orsi); the three fragments from Santa Maria del Fiore by Tino da Camaino and Arnolfo di Cambio at Mehringer Benappi; the glorious Madonna painted by Francesco Granacci for Santa Maria Novella, Florence, and once attributed to Raffaello (at Moretti Gallery); the trio of men in armour at Voena+Robillant (form the right: Jacopo Bassano, Antoon van Dyck and Bernardo Strozzi); the “Temptations of Saint Anthony” by Camillo Procaccini at Adolfo e Alessio Nobili; the “Agar and the Angel” by Mattia Preti, at Salomon; the “Portrait of Gabriele della Volta” by Giovanni Bellini at Frascione; the early Magnasco’s at Rob Smeets; the “Saint John the Baptist” by Nicolas Réigner at Poricni; the Mauro Reggiani at Sperone Wetwater; the small Fattori’s at Enrico (bought by a privte collector); or the delicate Renaissance Cumb on display in the special section dedicated to the upcoming fine art fair in Munich in partnership with the BIAF. All of them have probably already marked Florence in their 2017 diary.

September 28, 2015