#193 Look forward to one of my favourite events in this city – the Joburg Art Fair. Now in its third year the Fair has done for Joburg what the Design Indaba has done for Cape Town – made the city the capital of edgy contemporary hip-ness for a few glorious days. Last week I got a chance to talk to its founder, Ross Douglas of ArtLogic at his office/home — a real urban fashion statement in Milpark overlooking the huge circular tower of Egoli Gas.
Douglas previously co-produced William Kentridge’s 9 Drawings for Projection, and worked in film and TV. He came to setting up the Art Fair “through a strange series of steps” and was determined to see if he could wrest some sponsorship for an art event in a country where the big corporate money had long been earmarked for sport. The Fair was conceived of as a place where corporate South Africa and the contemporary art world should meet.
When he first started selling the idea one famous gallery owner remarked “I don’t know if anyone will come to that“.
An introduction to Paul Harris, First Rand CEO – FNB has been the Fair’s major sponsor since its inception – was the catalyst.
The challenges of holding an Art Fair in South Africa are not small. “How do you position an Art Fair in Africa?” says Douglas. For one thing there is no neighbouring art industry. Unlike in Europe, the US or South America the continent does not have a gallery system and most people’s perception of African art is that it is “craft”. The Joburg Art Fair was determined to change that – to shift the focus away from the folksy cliches of tourist art and onto contemporary work – art that makes a statement about “the time we live in and the place we live in”.
It did this by carefully curating the galleries who took part to ensure the public saw art as they had never seen it before, or “had never seen outside of London”. It paid off and in year one around 6 500 people thought it worth attending. Last year the fair expanded into local contemporary design and book lounges – as the recession hit visitors viewed the art and spent their cash on art books instead. Still the numbers were good with around 10 000 people coming through the door.
I ask Douglas about the children’s programme for this year – which I thought a neat addition to last year’s fair. Start building the future audience now – and he laughs, a lot. Not the most successful gamble – the children’s programme became controversial after Douglas was forced to “cancel” the performance of Barend de Wet of ‘The Difference between Life and Art: I knit, you not’, at the Blank projects booth. It involved De Wet standing, naked, and knitting a sock with parts of his body usually reserved for non-knitting functions. Barney it wasn’t.
This year the Joburg Art Fair will be pulling some other tricks out of their hat. One of the most interesting of these should be the Art & Industry collaboration, including artists like Smelt’s glass maker Martii Jansen van Rensburg who has been commissioned to create an artwork for one of the sponsors Grolsch , Willem Boshoff who is working on a project for Pirelli tyres and my favourite rugby player turned stitch-worker Laurence Lemaoana, he of the dancing Zuma fame, who has teamed up with fabric house St Leger & Viney. There are 23 local and international galleries taking part this year, an interesting array of development spaces, art talks and other special projects. The featured artist for the Fair is Siemon Allan, South African-born and American-based who has been working on a project called “Imaging South Africa”. All that’s left to do is to get to the Sandton Convention Centre from the 26-28th of March to see beautiful things and stirring things to be inspired by the range of what imagination can produce in the time we live in and the place we live in.
* For the full programme go to www.joburgartfair.co.za