Art fair creates a unified front for South African art

We asked leading art experts what impact the FNB Joburg Art Fair has had on the art scene since its inception.

Lerato Bereng, curator at Stevenson, Johannesburg

What impact has the Art Fair had on the South African art scene in the six years since its inception?

Increasingly I think the fair has started to have a presence on the international art scene, with attendance by collectors and curators from significant international institutions, which I believe has afforded good networking opportunities.

Which other fairs do you think South African galleries should attend?

Being located at the tip of the continent and quite some distance from the major art metropolises of the world, art fairs are particularly important to the gallery. Some notable fairs that we participate in include Frieze New York, Frieze London, Paris Photo and Art Basel Miami Beach to name a few. Other fairs such as The Armory Show, Volta and ABC Berlin are also good to look at.

Ian Maree, fine art consultant at Maree Modern & Contemporary, Johannesburg

Why is the fair important for collectors?

The Joburg Art Fair is a valuable event for both the novice collector and the informed, seasoned collector because it is an opportunity for visitors to not only view previously unseen work but also, if they are unfamiliar with the market, to gain valuable insight of into the inner workings of the commercial art community.
The silence of the gallery and museum environment can be intimidating for new collectors whereas the fair offers a much friendlier interface. Many of my clients whom I encourage to visit the fair focus their collections on the art of their time – art by artists currently creating work.

The advantage the fair creates for these collectors is that they can enjoy viewing works by unknown, up-and-coming and established artists from dozens of galleries over the course of a weekend.

What trends did you expect to see at this year’s fair?

Judging by the notifications and invitations I’ve received from galleries I expected to see more photography and painting this year than in previous years. Visitors should not underestimate the impact auction houses, collectors and institutions have on what participants choose to display. The booths I look forward to visiting most are usually the ones that are not manipulated by market trends.

What impact has the Art Fair had on the South African art scene in the six years since its inception?

Before the fair’s inception, events in the South African art scene were dominated by auctions and museum and gallery openings. I think one of its greater impacts has been that it has encouraged the general public to support local creativity.

The appeal of buying art is reaching a broader base of potential buyers. Another undeniable result is that the demand for contemporary art has grown since its inception. Every year visitors can expect to see more contemporary art at the fair. Institutions and auction houses have also started to highlight contemporary art in their collections and sales.

Leigh-Anne Niehaus, curator at Commune.1, Cape Town

At last year’s fair, Commune.1 was forced to remove a painting of Zuma by Ayanda Mabulu. It was only re-hung after David Goldblatt threatened to boycott the fair. Do you feel the fair is a space where controversial art and ideas can be showcased?

Although not intended for it, art fairs can be a dynamic space where art, commerce and politics collide. Galleries tend to function in an “art world bubble” so sometimes work that doesn’t seem that controversial certainly seems so when placed in an art fair environment. I think not showing controversial work at a fair as a blanket rule is a very dangerous route to take.

What trends did you expect to see at this year’s fair?

Large, highly tactile artwork that maintains a high level of social engagement and/or identity politics while acknowledging Africa’s distinct visual heritage.

What did your gallery present this year?

We showed Ledelle Moe’s autobiographical steel and concrete sculptures alongside Roger Palmer’s black and white photographs shot in South Africa and Namibia. There was also be a large mohair tapestry from Tamsin Relly (for L’MAD Collection) based on the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil rig that went up in flames in 2010.

What impact has the Art Fair had on the South African art scene in the six years since its inception?

Besides giving the South African art scene more exposure internationally and nationally, the fair has also granted South African and African galleries, artists and curators a centralised platform. Once a year we have the opportunity to think critically about ourselves as a unified whole and how we present ourselves in a broader international art context.

Mark Read, director of Everard Read, Johannesburg

Why is the fair important for collectors?

It’s by far the largest African art fair. It allows both local and international contemporary art collectors to view a wide spectrum of art from many of the continent’s pre-eminent artists. Close connections can be formed with the dealers in person through the fair.

What’s in it for curators?

It provides an expansive, competitive playground to exercise their curatorial ambitions.

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