Eleven new galleries exhibiting at Jo’burg Art Fair

It was a balmy spring day when Ross Douglas launched the sixth edition of the FNB Jo'burg Art Fair at the Shine Studios in Braamfontein, with a dramatic view over the Nelson Mandela Bridge.

While the core group of organisers, gallery owners, curators, arts reporters and critics remains the same, it is the artists and their preoccupations that change from year to year.

This year there are 33 confirmed galleries that will attend, of which 11 are new galleries showing work at the fair for the first time.

The announcement that this year would be a focus on photography, and that veteran photographer David Goldblatt would be the featured artist, was met with a sense of all-round joy. Particularly since Goldblatt – recipient of the 2009 Hasselblatt Award and the 2009 Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation Award – has produced a body of work that spans the decades of conservatism and change.

If one thing has been missing from the art fair, in its six years, it has been this: a presentation of work that shows South Africa through the periscope of time as opposed to a summary of the art produced over the past year. Or single coveted items, of historical value, intended for the investor.

"I have chosen to show a selection of work that I haven't yet published or exhibited," said Goldblatt. "My concern for many years has been with values – how we express those values, our ethos in what we build has been the way I have probed this in photographs.

"And so for example, in earlier years during the years of apartheid [I photographed] the Strijdom Monument in Pretoria which was a paean of praise to JG Strijdom. There was an opera house built next to it, and four horses that galloped into the future – the four provinces of South Africa.

"Then here was the dramatic loss of Mr Strijdom’s head when it fell through the back of the floor into the parking garage below.

"These are the things I've looked at. And more recently what to me is a mere fascist structure in Soweto: the so-called Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. And then travelling the country now, and looking at all kinds of things that denote post-apartheid.

"This is the sort of thing that I'm showing. There will be some pictures from early on and some pictures from post-apartheid South Africa."

The series titled The Structure of Things Then – and After is a furtherance of Goldblatt's earlier collection, published in 1998, simply titled The Structure of Things Then.

Other announcements made concerned the winners of the third edition of the coveted FNB Art Prize. This was given to digital artist Mocke J van Veuren and dancer Nelisiwe Xaba for their video installation Uncles & Angels. In receiving the award, Van Veuren acknowledged that the work examines the role of traditional dance (in this instance the famed Reed Dance that promotes female chastity) in defining "feminine sexuality under patriarchy. But it takes it into a different mode of thinking."

About the digital process Xaba said, "It looks at the challenges between the body and the screen. The dominance of either the video or the body, how video usually dominates when it comes to theatrical performance."

The prize is valued at R100 000 and the work receives a dedicated booth at the art fair.

Other initiatives this year include a new partnership with Samsung for a video art showcase. The chosen artist is Mohau Modisakeng, who will present his work Inzilo, which will also be shown at LOOP 2014 in Barcelona with the support of the Spanish government. This will happen thanks to a partnership that Artlogic, the company behind the art fair, has created with LOOP.

Further special projects include an exhibition of Santu Mofokeng's The Black Photo Album/Look at Me: 1890-1950, and a selection of Roger Ballen’s photographs from his series Outland, Boarding House, Shadow Chamber, Dorps and Platteland.

Photographs from Lagos; emerging photographers from the African Biennale of Photography in Bamako, Mali; a book launch of Art Cities of the Future (Phaidon); video works from the Brics countries and discussions about collecting contemporary African art (sponsored by the Goethe-Institut) make up the rest of the programme.

Finally, the tyre manufacturer Pirelli, that presents a work on the theme "Let's Dance" each year, in accordance with their Formula One campaign slogan, has named Nandipha Mntambo as their commissioned artist for 2013. She has worked on the subject of Spanish bullfighting before, and her new work will focus on the movement of bodies as they dance the famed Paso Doble.

The FNB Jo'burg Art Fair will run from September 27 to 29 at the Sandton Convention Centre. Visit the website for more information.

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Matthew Krouse
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