THAT ART FAIR at The Palms Décor and Lifestyle Centre until March 6. LUCINDA JOLLY contextualises.
FEBRUARY in Cape Town is synonymous with turbulence – gale force winds and prickly heat. Art reflects nature in the art world this month with an eruption of oppositional fairs and an art week for the people.
It could be seen as a battle of the fairs – fairly good natured with a slight edge – between mainstream and alternative with many grey intersecting areas in between. Last year That Art Fair, whose title echoes the 11 year old British fair, The Other Art Fair, which kicks off a month later, was housed in a three story garage pop-up type venue.
This year, it’s housed in the more conventional setting of the old Waverly shop in The Palms Décor and Lifestyle Centre. The shift also indicates a triple square metre increase.
“The space we have at The Palms is kind of industrial meets Victorian,” says Brendon Bell-Roberts, co-director with Suzette Bell-Roberts, and it’s seen as a comfortable fit with the output of traditional galleries, more edgy stuff and design.
Both fairs have parallel aims. In Bell–Roberts’ words “it provides a platform for young emerging and unrepresented artists with an opportunity to be seen in a professional space and have access to collectors buyers, meet galleries and obviously foster a career, and at same time they can sell” And both fairs consider themselves to be hipper and more in touch than the mainstream London’s Frieze art fair and its Cape Town equivalent The CTAF.
Bell-Robert is critical of mainstream fairs suggesting that they are not in touch with the real needs of the emerging art world and that the “standard white cube international art fair models aimed at the rich and famous people with lots of money”.
He suggests that “modes have changed and galleries are in a precarious position” as “lots of emerging artists are electing not to be represented by galleries because they can find opportunities of being on biennales and selling work themselves”.
He cites sculptor Jane Alexander as an example of one of South Africa’s most well-known artists who is not represented by a gallery. We show artists that there are many ways of doing it – they don’t have to jump into a gallery. “The problem with galleries”, he says, “is that they can only take a certain amount of artists – they can only really represent successfully, say 20.”
The key to That Art Fair is in the magazine Art South Africa, owned by the Bell-Roberts duo which has transformed into Art Africa with its shift away from focusing on South Africa to greater Africa and the Middle-East.
The fair is a three-dimensional version of the magazine. Art Africa’s presence as a media partner at a variety of fairs including 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, The Carthage film festival, The Armory Show and Volta has provided a great opportunity to network with potential galleries and artists. The magazines relationship with the fair is best illustrated through its invitation to Mali.
Bell-Roberts explained that the country has no formal art industry and only one or two galleries. Artists queued to find out how they could be represented. He explained to them that the best way for exposure was through the magazine and to become part of the fair. The 3rd edition of Art Africa will come out during the duration of the fair .
TAF twins the aims of the magazine. Against the concern of some, the magazine has encouraged the writing of young inexperienced writers to provide fresh voices away from “the same old same old” whose copy is supported by a strong editorial team. This approach reflects the original Bell- Roberts gallery which took young unknown graduates and made them “hot”, only to be snapped up by high-end galleries. This proved to be a commercial challenge making it difficult for the gallery to be commercially successful, as money is only made by galleries once the artists are well-known.
However the recognition and acceptance of their philanthropic role rather than a commercial one has led to the starting of an art foundation. That Art Fair which is a space for the emerging and unrepresented artists, who ‘are strong and pushing themselves”, includes photography, print, sculpture, film and video and is showcasing 165 artists from 22 countries and 13 local and international galleries including WorldArt, ARTCO gallery, Dubain gallery Mojo and Ugandan gallery Afriart. For the most part, artists and galleries pay a fee to exhibit, but for those who cannot afford the space there is a commission basis.
Unlike the CTAF there is no money prize, but there are potential offers of residencies. Highlights are the invited Benin artist Emo de Medeiros who is influenced by Jean -Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. His exhibition All Things Magic, which includes a series Surtentures, which mixes Benin’s historical craft of ‘appliquéed’ hangings with digital imagery. Featured artists include photographer and visual artist Malala Andrialavidrazana, conceptual artist Jacques Coetzer and painter and multimedia artist Laura Windvogel, aka Lady $kollie.
Films from Associação Cultural Videobrasil, shnit International Shortfilmfestival and Sunshine Cinema will be screened every evening. And of course, the party is a big event with the local debut of Afrohouse collective Batuk, and DJ’s from Skattie.
Bell- Roberts considers talks boring so there is only a days’ worth. He describes the feel of this year’s fair as “less curated and less focused”, explaining that “we wanted work to speak for itself and for the artist to present the work themselves rather than forcing them to do it in particular way.” Next year however the Bell-Roberts team aims to look at a much stronger curatorial team. “We are going to work with a lot of people in Africa to curate and create exhibitions, intervention events as part of it.” He predicts it to be a “one foot in biennale , one foot in a festival, art fair, one foot in gallery curated spaces approach with the possibility of multiple venues”.
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