Silvia Pillon is the recently appointed curator of the FNB Jo'burg Art Fair that opens this weekend. With her colleagues at the art fair office, under the trade name Artlogic, she has pulled together this year's event, which includes 33 galleries, 11 of which are newcomers.
This year the focus is on photo-graphy, a form in which South Africans have excelled, and continue to, internationally. And the programme is as ambitious as ever. This includes a retrospective of the work of David Goldblatt, a showing of Santu Mofokeng's famous The Black Photo Album series, and collaborations with the LagosPhoto festival and the Bamako Encounters biennale.
The noncommercial aspect of the fair falls under the aegis of Pillon, who was born in Venice and who studied German, Russian and the history of art in Venice, Berlin and Moscow.
After working for the Venice Biennale 2007, she studied further in Paris. She worked at the French Institute in Paris as a co-ordinator of the Visual Arts Programme for the French-Russian Year 2010, and as gallery curator at Paris's Baudoin Lebon Gallery before joining Artlogic in 2012.
You migrated from the quite stringent requirements in Europe for gathering culture into compartments to Jo'burg, where things seem a lot more collaborative.
Yes, it definitely is. And you are right, I moved from the old world with its rules and structures into a very new but interesting art scene, which is internationally incredibly successful and well known. And it is very collaborative. I had a great experience meeting art people here and in Cape Town who have been incredibly generous with me.
Since we have no biennale, do you think the art fair fills a gap, or needs to fill a gap, or is it its own animal?
It's a question that I always have to answer with art people in Johannesburg. For me, they are two completely different animals – biennales and trade shows. An art fair is a trade show. There is a gap probably to be filled. But I believe we [at the Jo'burg Art Fair] are trying to do something with our special projects programme, with our noncommercial projects, to try to offer the audience shows that are museum quality.
How did you arrive at the focus on photography this year?
It has been a collective decision. It was the proposition that Artlogic made when I joined the team and I think it is quite challenging. [South African] photography is very strong, especially outside of South Africa. You have amazing photographers, they are very well known and appreciated, but I don't know if they are really strong from a commercial point of view inside the country.
Why did you choose David Goldblatt as the featured artist?
Goldblatt is not at the beginning of his career any more and I think it's very important to give him this homage. I think it is going to be challenging, his idea of going back to black-and-white. Both he and Santu Mofokeng consider some of the historical and social problems of this country. So this is the common element between the two. So there is a focus on the history of this country.
Does a common theme then emerge from the works?
Maybe it's " then and after …" I also believe in the role of an art fair curator. What does it mean? It means you are taking care of something. So I don't think my role is to communicate a specific message but to find a way to produce a good show that is enjoyable, that is challenging – for people to want to go there and learn something. I think my role is much more about generating questions than giving answers or communicating messages.
This year also includes a collaboration with the LagosPhoto festival. How did that come about?
We have been thinking for a while, with Artlogic, about some collaboration with Nigeria. And the idea has been supported by Arts Alive. In the beginning, we wanted to be with them in a sort of twin cities project – Lagos and Johannesburg. We just contacted them and they were very happy to start this collaboration. So they are going to send an exhibition of works by six photographers that will be presented in Lagos in October at the LagosPhoto festival.
And we are working on the other side of the project – the Johannesburg presence in Lagos. That is not going to happen in 2013 but we hope to realise it for next year.
In your personal life what kind of art do you like?
In my living room, I have a very nice lithograph by the late Italian Futurist Gino Severini. It is made up of shapes, a pipe, some cards, a violin. We also have some contemporary art pieces. We have works by Pieter Hugo, Mikhail Subotzky.
What advice would you give to people wanting to spend between R20 000 to R50 000 at the art fair?
It depends on the goal, what you want to achieve with your collection, and in what way you want to be strategic, or if you want to be strategic at all. Buy what you like and spend time visiting galleries, talking to curators. If you can, meet other people who are buying art and just try to expose yourself to as much as you can. You have an opportunity to meet other collectors during the collector's forum, to meet the curators and listen to the art talks. If you have a budget, spend the budget with only one artwork. It doesn't have to be tradeable but if you are looking for investment then it may be better to buy one work.
The FNB Jo'burg Art Fair is on at the Sandton Convention Centre until 5pm on Sunday September
Thing of beauty uncles & angels
It is the allure of hyper-feminine beauty and an intriguingly personal take on tribal ritual that makes Uncles & Angels so successful. The video artwork is the winner of this year's FNB Art Prize, and it will occupy pride of place at the Jo'burg Art Fair this weekend.
Created by dancer Nelisiwe Xaba and filmmaker Mocke J van Veuren, it is a stereoscopic film, seen in 3D, shown on a big, high-definition television screen. According to the artists' statement, "the film employs a minimal, constrained aesthetic within a box-like spatial frame to metaphorically elaborate on the treatment of feminine purity and virginity under patriarchy".
On receiving the award at the launch of the art fair on September 9, Xaba spoke about how the work played on the tension between performance and film: "It looks at the challenges between body and screen, the dominance of either video or the body."
The award includes a R100?000 cash prize. Previous winners are Cedric Nunn (2011) and Kudzanai Chiurai (2012).