The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, the Netherlands, is a cornucopia like those sometimes depicted in the old master paintings on view, spilling over with riches. A sparkling display of jewelry here, a pale ancient Greek statue over there, not far from a contemporary work in glowing neon.
But everything that goes on view is vetted to ensure that it is authentic, and that process has always been a point of pride for the fair.
Now, measures are being taken to make the vetting even stronger and more independent as about 275 dealers show their wares from Saturday to March 24 at the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Center. The policy also applies to Tefaf’s other fairs, which take place in New York twice a year.
In an increasingly litigious world, fair organizers thought that more safeguards were needed, even though the decision didn’t exactly thrill the galleries at first.
Going forward, vetting committees will no longer have dealers and auction house employees as voting members. Independent experts only, with an emphasis on museum curators and academics, will vote.
Wim Pijbes, former general director at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, was recently appointed global chairman of vetting, a new role created as part of the policy changes.
“We changed the vetting committees this year, and it created a bit of an uproar,” said Nanne Dekking, the chairman of Tefaf’s board of trustees since last year, who pushed for the policy change.
“We have done everything we could to avoid conflicts,” he said.
A former Sotheby’s executive, Mr. Dekking, who is Dutch but is based in New York, founded Artory, an art price database that tracks the provenance of objects. He described himself as “pro-transparency” and noted that his own experience in the marketplace influenced his views on vetting.
“I’m thinking about the consumer’s perspective,” Mr. Dekking said of the art world’s often-opaque practices. “The market gives a lot of information to people who are already buying, but not to new clients. A lot of people don’t trust it because they think it’s for insiders.”
To illustrate the point, he employed an analogy from his own life: the recent sale of a 2004 Hyundai Santa Fe that he kept at his house in Tuscany.
“I sold it for 900 euros, and the guy who bought it got a booklet with everything about it, including all the service reports,” Mr. Dekking said of the documentation required by Italy’s used-car laws.
He added, “Someday, I hope that the art market has a standardized condition report.”
In the meantime, Tefaf has vetters. About 180 experts from around the world will serve in that capacity this year on several committees, and the process takes place four or five days before the fair.
It usually lasts a day and a half, and the fair provides food and lodging for the visiting experts while they poke and prod everything that goes on view.
One of the sculpture committee members is Robert van Langh, the head of conservation and restoration at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Wim Pijbes, the newly appointed global chairman of vetting, is the former general director at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.CreditVincent Mentzel
He knows how to use highly technical equipment: X-radiography, portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, ultraviolet photography and high-resolution microscopy, and all of it is available to vetters.
He noted that aesthetic and stylistic issues were also taken into consideration, not just science.
If the gathering of experts brings to mind a group of Sherlock Holmes-like sleuths, Mr. van Langh confirmed that “some of us do wear the tweed vest you imagine.”
But he said that although it was highly enjoyable to be among the fair’s treasures — like walking through a “candy shop,” in his words — he took the responsibility seriously.
“I work at a museum, and I have absolutely no interest in being in doubt about a work of art,” said Mr. van Langh, who also advocated the recent rule change. “I’m not going to put my name on something I don’t believe in.”
He added: “Doubt? Take it out.”
And things do get rejected. As an example, Mr. van Langh cited a painting purported to be from the 17th century, offered at a previous fair. Upon examination, its white pigment was found to have zinc in it, rather than the lead that was standard at the time. It got bounced.
“And the dealer thanked us,” Mr. van Langh said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, what did you do to me?’ They don’t want to sell something that later proves to be wrong.”
Mr. Dekking confirmed that dealers were won over by the concept. “It’s counterintuitive at first, but they get it once you explain,” he said. “And it’s not personal.”
The change is an attempt to bolster a longtime strength of the fair, which began in 1988.
“They’ve always had a robust vetting process,” said Kaywin Feldman, the new director of the National Gallery of Art and a former director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
“We acquired works there every year,” Ms. Feldman added, noting than some of her Minneapolis curators had served as vetters. “I know from their work how vigorous it is.”
Institutional buyers like Ms. Feldman are important to art fairs like Tefaf, but so are private collectors like Marina Kellen French, a trustee of Tefaf as well a trustee emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; she also endowed a decorative arts curatorship at the Met.
Ms. French, a New Yorker who said that her family had been collecting for several centuries, is best known for her holdings of European decorative art, but she also buys contemporary art, including a recent purchase of a Larry Bell painting.
“Tefaf is the best of the best,” said Ms. French, who has been attending Maastricht for about eight years. “And it’s vital that a fair like that is vetted properly.”
She added: “Many people who collect are new at this. If they feel it’s done right, they’re more secure in buying. There are so many copies these days, especially with antiquities.”
Those beginners are paramount as events like Tefaf — perceived by some as old-school and insular — try to attract new business.
“It was a real tough job to push this through, but in the end it will be worth it,” Mr. Dekking said.
“Clients will trust you not because of your blue eyes or that you studied at Oxford, but because the antiques were looked at by the right people. That’s reassurance.”