Art lights up the old Turbine Hall

The foyer of the Turbine Hall is empty and calm. A few organisers stand behind a table in the distance, chatting quietly, but that’s the only sign of life.

Descend into the lower section of the building, though, and the noise comes up at you even before you’re through the attractively dingy bar-eaterie area. There’s a fair amount of banging, as there would be: a big show is being hung. Well, it’s really a host of showlets, in booths created for the purpose in the gallery areas.

The downstairs part feels a little like the forge of the orcs in The Lord of the Rings, but maybe that’s because of the giant striated concrete pillars and rusted pieces of mysterious machinery left over from when this space used to be part of the Jeppe Street Power Station.

Sculptor Damien Dion Grivas is curating the PPC Imaginarium corner, comprising works sponsored by the cement company through its annual competition. It is appropriately located in the eaves of the pillars. The Johannesburg Art Gallery has a generously sized sort of vault area in which to showcase some of the works by international and South African artists it has in its collection – this, presumably, is just to set the scene; these works will not be for sale.

Artist Hentie van der Merwe, who also teaches at Stellenbosch University and has curated a selection of paintings by art students at universities across the country, is engaged in what looks like negotiation with someone I can’t quite see.

Introducing emerging artists
Zanele Mashumi, who curated the Fresh Produce group of artists for the  show, is having her picture taken by the Mail & Guardian’s photographer.

Find your way upstairs, and more booths are being constructed. There’s a pop art Madiba on a mirror at the Bag Factory’s stand, and a suite of gorgeous Wopko Jensma prints at Warren Siebrits, as there would be. Besides the works by emerging artists, the fair has prints and works on paper by established artists.

Artwork by Andrew Ntshabele

There’s a balcony space getting filled up with work by the newest, youngest artists anyone could find, including a vast hyperrealist-minimalist painting of a part of a building. Weirdly, it puts an image of the outside of a building inside another, in this great old industrial hulk, with its odd inner patchwork of spaces.

It’s the third iteration of the Turbine Art Fair, staged by the Forum Company, which owns the Turbine Hall. In its first year, the fair had about 3 000 visitors; in its second, that number was 6 000. This year it will host 4 000 to 5 000 works, mostly relatively small – and relatively cheap. There is a ceiling on their value: R40 000. No Kendell Geers razor-wire mazes here for a couple of million, sorry. There might be a tiny William Kentridge doodle in a corner somewhere, but that’s about it for the big contemporary names.

The idea of the fair, as the Forum’s Glynis Hyslop tells me, was to create exposure for new, young artists and for smaller galleries and dealers, to showcase less expensive works by established artists (meaning predominantly prints and multiples), and to make the whole thing as accessible as possible to the public. Hyslop says she collects art herself, and has long thought a good way to do it is to buy art you love by artists who are still on the way up – that is, artists whose work will hopefully appreciate in years to come.

Learning more about art
“I asked myself: How to grow the art market in South Africa?” Hyslop says. “Lots of people in South Africa haven’t been exposed to art. So we wanted to do something accessible, that would provide talks where you could learn more about art, and also a festive sort of environment, with artisan food, music, children’s programmes and so on.”

In this, the TAF15, as it wishes to be abbreviated, is distinct from the top-end Johannesburg Art Fair held in Sandton. “The Jo’burg Art Fair can be daunting,” says Hyslop. “The Turbine Art Fair is less intimidating.”

Mthombisi Maphumulo’s Redman

Fresh Produce curator Mashumi travelled the country to find new artists to exhibit; the group show is funded by Rand Merchant Bank. Mashumi has worked on various art shows before, including a Pat Mautloa solo exhibition and Soweto’s first “pop-up gallery”.

The collector meets the client
In February and March this year, Mashumi went from Cape Town to Durban and Port Elizabeth to Polokwane, looking at work by about 70 artists, from which she selected nine to be shown on Fresh Produce, with three or four works by each.

They are also involved in mentorship programmes facilitated by Assemblage, a non-profit organisation in Newtown that gets artists networked and provides some professional support.

“They are all graduates,” she says. “They’ve had a few shows, but they are still emerging artists. This fair is a great opportunity for them to meet collectors, to meet clients.”

You might say there’s a bit of electricity being generated in the old power station again.

TAF15 runs until July 19
For more information, go to

Author Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.


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