TEFAF 2015: an interview with Madelon Strijbos

By Artkhade with Art Media Agency

Maastricht, 17 March 2015


Organised by The European Fine Art Foundation, TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) is an annual art fair hosted at the MECC in Maastricht, Netherlands. First held in 1988, the fair attracts around 70,000 private collectors, museum curators, art market professionals, and art lovers annually and is considered one of world’s best and most important art fairs. The 28th edition, running from 13 until 22 March 2015, comprises 274 leading art and antiques dealers from around 20 countries, representing a wide range of disciplines spanning from Egyptian antiquities and African Tribal Art to contemporary East Asian Art. AMA got the chance to talk to Madelon Steijbos, head of Marketing and PR for TEFAF at this year’s must-see event.

Are you happy with how the fair is unfolding so far? Yes, so far so good! The vibe is extremely good at the fair; you can see lots of red and green dots in the different stands so it’s a promising start. Just by walking and looking around, you can see that the dealers and visitors are relaxed and happy; the atmosphere’s extremely good so it has been a fantastic start.

What we’ve experienced in the past is that sales continue up until the very last minute of the fair. Compared to contemporary art fairs, TEFAF is a bit longer as it lasts 10 days, but sales still continue up until the last Sunday. On Thursday, we held the preview for guests of our dealers and we are expecting a lot more sales before the fair closes on next Sunday, 22 March.

You took on a new position as head of Marketing and PR in June of last year. Were there things that you wanted to do differently and changes that you were able to implicate? Since the fair’s organisation is cyclical, we always evaluate ourselves as we always have a point in the year when we can start again. In terms of communication, we have a constantly evolving strategy and we can see that the media landscape is changing. I’ve been researching how we can best adapt to this new situation. We’ve noticed that a lot of art writers have to cover more events in less time as there are fewer art writers around, so we provide them with the information they need and try to accommodate them in any way possible.

This year, modern and contemporary art appears to be more present than in previous years, both in terms of quality and quantity of the galleries. Is this the case? The only thing that has changed is the layout of the floor plan in the modern section. Both Classical Antiquities and the Modern section have been rearranged. The new floor plan design gives a more spacious feel to it but there is exactly the same number of exhibitors as in previous years. The only addition is the eight galleries that are represented in the Night Fishing show, which is really not that big, at 250 metres-squared, but which has a much bigger impact.

Night Fishing is an ancient technique to draw fish to the surface by using a lamp at night. With this show, the curator, Sydney Picasso aims to draw connections between art that has been created recently and art that has been created over the past 7,000 years. Contemporary art doesn’t just fall from the sky; it has history. The artists acknowledge this history so it’s very interesting to see contemporary art in a context of 7,000 years of art history.

TEFAF is a very European fair, with most of the dealers hailing from Europe. Do you hope for the fair to become more international? I would say the majority of exhibitors here are European, but there are also many dealers from the United States, Korea, and Japan. This obviously something we need to to take into account. This is also reevaluated each year and we feel that what we offer now and the way in which we offer it is the best combination possible, and is what the visitors and collectors look for.

The impact of social media is significant in how we directly reach out to collectors. We work very closely with our dealers and exhibitors as they maintain the strongest connection with the collectors. We address the public through the press, and also directly, through social media, events, and presentations. In London, we had a series of TEFAF talks about several different topics which was very interesting. This is an evolving part of the organisation of the fair.

There’s not necessarily something we feel that we absolutely need to do. However, we always keep our eyes and ears open to whatever developments and possibilities may arise in the art world. We keep on exploring, as we always have.

We see a lot of fairs throughout the year but TEFAF is one of the best organised. To what does it owe its success? TEFAF is a not for profit organisation. This means that we can do a lot without having to charge our exhibitors very high prices. The money that TEFAF makes is reinvested in the fair for the following year. We have a small but very efficient team of highly experienced professionals who know this fair. To be completely honest, I am one of the newer employees; some of my colleagues have been working for TEFAF for 20-25 years so they know what the fair’s about and they know what our exhibitors and visitors expect from us. During the fair, we always keep note of what we can do better next year. I’m not going to tell you what changes we’re going to make, so you’ll have to come back next year to find out!

What are you most proud of this year? I’m very proud of the combination of our team and the dealers. You can see that the exhibitors have really pushed themselves to bring extraordinary exhibitions to their stands and the entrance hall, which was designed by Tom Postma. This makes me very proud of the whole fair; it’s extraordinary that you can create an environment where all of this is possible. Just walking around the fair and seeing that everybody has taken such great care of their stands, offering the best works of art currently on the market from so many different periods, that my colleagues have taken such good care of the aisles… Even the parking is well structured! If you ask me whether I feel that I am working for the best fair, I would say: absolutely, no doubt in my mind!

Tags: Aboriginal Art, Pre-Columbian Art, Native American Art, Oceanic Art, Asian Art, African Art, Fairs & Shows, Interviews