Creating a broader art scene

Getting the job done: Anthea Buys, Nokwazi Nzimu, Makgati Molebatsi, Roberta Coci and Lucy MacGarry comprise the team that run the Latitudes art fair. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Getting the job done: Anthea Buys, Nokwazi Nzimu, Makgati Molebatsi, Roberta Coci and Lucy MacGarry comprise the team that run the Latitudes art fair. (Delwyn Verasamy)

For almost 12 years, the FNB Joburg Art Fair has been managed and owned by ArtLogic. Earlier this year ArtLogic relinquished its ownership of the fair solely to its former director, Mandla Sibeko, making it a wholly black owned institution.

In his hands, what was formerly known as the Joburg Art Fair now goes as Art Joburg. With the new name, comes a fresh model that incorporates what Sibeko refers to as “a hybrid curatorial and commercial approach”.

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The fair will be divided into three parts: the main section, Gallery Lab and MAX.
The main section will showcase works from nine galleries, including Blank Projects, Gallery Momo, Goodman Gallery, Kalashnikov and Stevenson.

According to Art Joburg’s website, Gallery Lab is an incubator space that will feature emerging “galleries and hybrid spaces” with the aim of testing and presenting new artists and alternative business models.

The MAX section will exhibit works that present a spatial challenge in booths.

While many aspects of the art fair are changing, its partnership with FNB remains.

In addition to name and model changes from Art Joburg, the September art fair circuit also welcomes Latitudes Art Fair — the first African fair owned solely by women. Art Joburg continues to take place at the Sandton Convention Centre and Latitudes will be housed by a large marquee at Nelson Mandela Square. Both fairs will take place from September 13 to 15. And four of Latitudes’s five partners — Makgati Molebatsi, Roberta Coci, Lucy MacGarry, Nokwazi Nzimu and Anthea Buys — have, to different extents, been associated with the old art fair, prior to ArtLogic opting out.

With its commencement taking place around the time ArtLogic left the FNB sponsored art fair, spectators of the art world have speculated on what led to the creation of Latitudes. With just a week to go before Joburg’s Art Fair Week, the Mail & Guardian looked into this new kid on the block and this season’s changes.

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When the Joburg Art Fair landed in 2007, there were fewer than 50 art fairs across the world. Today the number borders on 300. So after last year’s FNB Art Fair, ArtLogic put together an advisory team for strategic redirection to see where the fair could go seeing that others fairs on the continent were gaining momentum. Art advisor and curator MacGarry and art consultant Molebatsi were part of that team. “I’m not sure when exactly, but somewhere along the way they decided they’re not going ahead with it, then Mandla took over the fair,” Molebatsi tells M&G. “Lucy and I were aware of the art fair environment’s need of transformation. We wanted to heed its call.”

Four months later — after Molebatsi and MacGarry brought their three partners on board — and it’s a week until Latitudes’s debut.

Described by its founders as a fair for “African art in international times”, Latitudes looks to become a platform that increases entries into the art world, while spreading the reach of African art. To do this, the collective has placed 24 booths within the 100m2 marquee. Within those booths patrons can expect representation from the likes of AfriArt Gallery (Uganda), Artco (Germany), Arte de Gema (Mozambique), Artists Proof Studio (South Africa), First Floor Gallery Harare (Zimbabwe), Gallery Tiny (United States), KZNSA Gallery (South Africa) and This is Not a White Cube (Angola).

To put this fair together, Latitudes received sponsorship from the likes of Sandton City, the South African Mint, Daytona, Strauss & Co, Gautrain, Spier, Weylandts, Artfundi and ArtAfrica.

In addition to its main exhibitors, the fair has a curated programme comprising three exhibitions: Essay, Independent and Spotlight. Essay will exhibit work from an unknown artist, alongside that of an “overlooked master”.

Independent showcases the work of artists without gallery representation. And Spotlight is a shared space in which emerging galleries have the opportunity to showcase three works without having to pay the full cost of a booth.

Baking a bigger pie

While Latitudes has been perceived as competition for the monopoly that Art Joburg had in its previous incarnation, Molebatsi says the fair is taking the opportunity to cement Johannesburg’s role as an artistic stronghold.

Instead of dividing the pie into two, Latitudes is adding its ingredients to make a bigger one. Molebatsi says the need to do so comes from the fact that collectors have begun gravitating towards Cape Town, a decision that she attributes to the city being a tourist destination, as well as the opening of the two new private art museums.

“Now that Cape Town has Zeitz [Museum of Contemporary Art Africa] and [The] Norval [Foundation], we couldn’t help but ask ourselves, what will happen to Johannesburg if we have just one fair,” says Molebatsi.

“If we neglect the art scene that we have in Johannesburg, it’s to our detriment. That’s why we need to volumise the noise around Johannesburg.”

In keeping with this energy, arts lecturer and scholar Thembinkosi Goniwe compares the congruent timing of the fairs to how galleries no longer exist in silos, much as in the way malls have food courts. “This kind of centralisation, provides audiences with enough time to move and compare a variety of experiences,” says Goniwe.

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The model Molebatsi and Goniwe are referring to — where multiple fairs take place in close proximity to one another over one weekend — is used across the world. The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair and the Frieze London take place at the same time in the UK capital. In Miami there are Art Basel, Aqua Art Miami, Design Miami, and Pulse Art Fair. In New York, the Armory Show and Scope New York happen during the same weekend.

More fairs beget the representation of more galleries, more discoveries, more access and more opportunities. “Art Joburg has its galleries; we don’t want those,” Molebatsi shakes her head. “No. We want those artists and galleries who are saying they’ve been trying to get into Joburg Art Fair but they cannot.”

By including what Goniwe refers to as “peripheral” artists, galleries and project spaces, Latitudes builds on a concept that the Turbine Art Fair has made use of since its inception. Some of the lesser-known project spaces exhibited at this year’s Turbine include Blaque Ink Contemporaries, Free State Art Collective and The For Sale Project.

On the surface, of this year’s art fair season seems to be a sea of overall wins for women and the African art community at large, but it would be naive to leave it at that. As Goniwe said toward the end of our conversation earlier this week: “There are problems with inheriting institutions that were not designed to cater for and challenge the diverse, dynamic, unequal, homophobic and patriarchal society that we are.”

So even though this year’s art fair circuit has hints of racial and gendered transformation, to what extent can institutions that are largely concerned with making money transform to serve the country beyond the perimeters of the affluent art fair block in Sandton?

I guess, in the same way President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2018 promises of a “new dawn” have unravelled to reveal a lukewarmness towards femicide, rape culture and xenophobia, time will tell what these changes in the art world really mean. 

Zaza Hlalethwa

Zaza Hlalethwa

Zaza Hlalethwa is a junior arts and culture writer at the Mail & Guardian. In 2018 she was the recipient of a Sikuvile commendation for feature writing. In 2019 she received the Gauteng region Vodacom Journalist of the Year award for feature and lifestyle writing. Her interests in the arts stem from a need to demystify the elitist and complex-looking art world while her pop culture analyses look to facilitate critical thinking and challenge perpetuated social norms by using popular, everyday references, multilingualism and prose. Read more from Zaza Hlalethwa

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