Tefaf Maastricht, the European Fine Art Fair which takes place in the Netherlands every March, has come under fire for not rescheduling its thirty-third edition amid the coronavirus outbreak. The 2020 event opened as planned on March 7, but closed four days early after an exhibitor informed organizers that they had tested positive for COVID-19. According to a report in the Art Newspaper, at least twenty-five people who attended the fair say they have been infected with the virus.
While it is impossible to know where the individuals contracted COVID-19, the Art Newspaper quotes several people who have expressed frustration with Tefaf, and who called the fair “irresponsible” for holding such a large public gathering—the event drew 28,500 visitors. Dealer Ambrose Naumann—who traveled to the fair from New York, the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States—told the Art Newspaper: “One can only speculate what drove them to continue with business as usual, and none of those reasons looks good for Tefaf. . . .A mistake is a mistake, but this one could have been deadly. And, frankly, it still could be.”
Tefaf’s chairman Nanne Dekking defended the fair’s management and its decision not to cancel the event, which he says was supported by the “vast majority” of participating galleries. He also argued that “to isolate coronavirus to only our fair, which happened right at a turning point when the virus quickly started to spread in the Netherlands and many other countries, such as the US, is unfair.” While he also said that “there were no cases in the Netherlands when we started the fair,” this statement is actually inaccurate.
Bloomberg reports that the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the Netherlands was confirmed at the end of February, and according to CNN, the number of confirmed cases jumped to 188 by the opening of the fair—the majority of infectees had recently returned from trips to Northern Italy. However, decisions regarding whether to call off events was complicated by the Dutch health authority’s response to the outbreak. Initially, individuals arriving from China, Italy, Iran, and other countries with a high confirmed case count were told they only needed to self-quarantine if they had symptoms. The country did not ban large public gatherings until after the fair kicked off.