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A Conversation with The European Fine Arts Foundation Chairman Hidde van Seggelen

How TEFAF, a leading Art Fair moved quickly to virtual delivery with a unique approach to engage its audience

Evan Beard, National Head of Art Services at Bank of America, recently sat down with Hidde Van Seggelen, Chairman of the Executive Committee of The European Fine Arts Foundation ahead of this year’s fall event.  In this webcast, they discuss how TEFAF had to quickly change its business model to adapt to today’s new digital environment and construct a new, unique approach to its fair experience.

Please read the important information at the end of this program.


EVAN: Thank you, everyone, for joining us today. I’m Evan Beard, head of art services at Bank of America Private Bank, and I’m joined today by the new chairman of the executive committee of TEFAF.

EVAN: So Hidde, I’ve watched firsthand—you know we do a lot of lending against art, and we work with a lot of collectors. And we’re partnered with a lot of art institutions, galleries, auction houses. I’ve watched, over these last few months, the business model shift, and it’s had to shift dramatically. We’ve seen auction houses go digital, art fairs transition to digital sales rooms. How is TEFAF adjusting its business model?

HIDDE: It’s a very interesting question, I do see that you also acknowledge the fact that everything is changing in the art world where art fairs, galleries, art dealers, auction houses, have to change. And this change is very sudden. We are in a middle of everything. We as the foundation we need to adapt to a new environment, a new reality, we have to come forward to our dealers, to our clients of our dealers, and to construct a new model in which we can operate. It’s challenging but exciting at the same time.

EVAN: So we have TEFAF New York, your New York fair that will occur in late October. Help us understand on the ground, how will it feel different than past fairs in New York City?

HIDDE: We do organize two spectacular events in New York. This time however it will be different because we cannot organize a physical fair and we have decided to launch our first digital initiative called TEFAF Online. For this platform, we have invited TEFAF dealers that normally participate in New York, and combined this with the dealers that normally are also in Maastricht, so we have a very diverse group of dealers showing at this platform.

EVAN: I talk to collectors and dealers all the time. And when we think of TEFAF, we often think of connoisseurship. And historically, it’s been the fair that is very deep in its connoisseurship. It’s sometimes called the curators’ fair, the museums’ fair. As the new chairman of this organization, how do you take that, which is very special and tactile, and deliver that experience to these collectors and dealers in a digital environment?

HIDDE: It’s very clear that TEFAF is a fair for experts, connoisseurship, knowledge from each field, each dealer works in the field and has the experience for sometimes over 50 years. The companies and dealerships that work within TEFAF show this at all levels. I think that’s exciting. We represent 7000 years of art history. Then you have to realize that within TEFAF you can actually buy the objects, everything that you see in TEFAF is for sale. It’s museum quality that you can buy. I think that’s exciting. If you then think about digital compared to the physical fair, it’s that the dealers on the platform will have the opportunity to show videos. They can go really into depth talking about the objects that they are presenting. And that’s perhaps different than what you have on a physical fair. A physical fair, you present maybe 40 objects, 20 paintings. With this platform, each dealer has been invited to show only one object and this object will be presented to the public with lots of information.

EVAN: This idea of a dealer bringing one object is actually really interesting, because there’s a lot of other art fairs that have gone digital. And they’re quite exhausting, because it’s a challenge to go through lots of works by lots of dealers. So how—talk to us. How will you vet each of these individual objects? And how will the dealers select that one object?

HIDDE: It is obvious within the new digital reality, the changes that we’re facing, that vetting also had to become digital. The dealers are responsible for selecting the objects that they are showing on the platform. Let me make this very clear- it’s not TEFAF that’s deciding, but it’s each gallerist, each expert is selecting what they want to present. But we as TEFAF, as an organization, as the foundation, we work with very strict vetting rules. We have more than 27 committees going through the fair, and we felt that going towards the digital platform we should keep this very high standard of vetting alive and to enable the secure environment also for the people that are wanting to buy, are willing to investigate further. So we work very closely with these committees together with the Art Loss Register and together with the dealers. At the end of the day, the dealers are responsible for the quality that they are delivering, and each dealer will provide adequate condition reports, and expert reports on the objects. This all happens in the background. As a visitor of the fair you will never see it. But I can promise you, when you were present during the vetting days, TEFAF was very busy with all the museum experts ongoing through the fair - it’s an extremely exciting element of TEFAF that the public will never see. You can only read about it and hear about it.

EVAN: Many of our collectors are New York based and US based, and for 30 years, many of our collectors have made that trip to Maastricht every year. There’s been so many great discoveries and new works that have been brought onto the market in that fair, and it has this illustrious history. The last few years you’ve been wildly successful introducing both the TEFAF brand and the TEFAF art fair, that model, which is cross-category, deep connoisseurship, academic. What’s your future in New York City? Are you committed to the US?

HIDDE: We’re absolutely committed to the US, and I want to repeat myself, we are also very grateful for your support and the support of Bank of America in this. But let me take one step back. I think the cultural exchange is key to what we do. And over the years of the past 30 years, we’ve seen many many American institutions, museums, professionals, and collectors, coming to Maastricht. And the list would be endless if we look at the works of art that have ended up in American institutions, so for us to come to New York is key. We’ve been extremely successful with the event that we organize in the Armory and we are grateful for this position to be able to organize in the fair, so as soon as things become normal again, we will come back to the United States, and we will do this together with our community.

EVAN: Well, look, you chose an interesting time to lead an art fair, and it’s probably—the 30 year history of TEFAF—there probably has not been a more important time, because this will dictate what the future of the fair is. These digital strategies you’re implementing are going to keep this fair going and thriving in the near term and will allow it to get back to its more proper structure of an in-person fair, where we can come together and see objects.

HIDDE: The digital strategies and everything we’re implementing as we speak will not go away. This will go hand in hand with the physical events, and I am ever so grateful for Bank of America to continue supporting us in this very difficult time. I say this also on behalf of the dealer community that you have been staying with us. I can’t wait to shake your hands in real life again, when we can organize an event in New York, it would be in the Spring Fair or the Fall fair, or welcoming you to Maastricht. The same is for your clients and your contacts, I really hope that very soon that we can have a physical event again.

I want to thank you once more, I look forward to seeing you very soon.

EVAN: All right, Hidde, great catching up. Take care.

HIDDE: We’ll speak soon again. Thank you.

Opinions are those of the speakers and subject to change.

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