Joburg Art Fair 2010

#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.

Lawrence Lemaoana's Dancers on the Wall, 2009

Lawrence Lemaoana's Dancers on the Wall, 2009

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”.
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Joburg Art Fair – Take 2

#90. Get ready for the Joburg Art Fair that comes back to town on April 3, and this year’s event  promises to be even more spectacular than the first one. Last year I fell in love with work from Dale Yudelman’s series ‘I am ‘ that showcased beautiful photographic portraits of immigrants — mostly Zimbabwean and Malawian — to this city with the notes they leave asking for work.

Interviewed for Artthrob Yudelman said: ‘Each note had its own character, the paper torn, placed or jammed onto the board, sometimes even with chewing gum! Seeing something handwritten, in a time where we don’t see much handwriting, revealed a lot to me.’

The portraits captured the dignity of people who had left behind their own countries, their homes, in search of a better life  — sadly it was people like these who one month later would become the victims of a spate of xenophobic attacks that left this city reeling.

Yudelman said: ‘This is about finding humility in other people’s struggles. The series also enabled me to tackle the impact of technology on our lives and our notion of a collective. We tend to become very isolated with technology. We have fewer one-on-one-conversations as they shift and take place via cellphone and emails. Most people’s lives happen on Facebook instead of out on the street!’

The fair is a showcase for contemporary African art, the only one on a continent that is exploding with talent. But more than that it takes the pulse of the place. This year it promises to show the work of around  400 artists with talks by a line-up that includes photographer Mikhael Subotzky (who made his name with a series of photographs capturing life inside Pollsmoor Prison and when last seen at an Obama party in Troyeville was working on photographing one of Joburg’s key landmarks, Ponte) and another favourite, former rugby player turned stitch artist Lawrence Lemaoana, a children’s programme and book lounge.

The prices, I am told will range from a few hundred rand to a few million.

I didn’t leave with a Yudelman last year — after a gentle rebuke from my house and life mate that my taste in art is sad and disturbing. I am not so sure it’s my taste as it is our reality. But here’s to second takes.

* The Joburg Art Fair runs from April 3-5 at the Sandton Convention Centre. To see the programme click here to go to the site (badly in need of some good design principles but worth persevering for the content).

Artist Lawrence Lemaoana takes on Jacob Zuma

#52. Don’t miss Lawrence Lemaoana’s exhibition: “Fortune Telling in Black, Red and White” at David Brodie’s Art Extra Gallery in Craighall. Brodie’s gallery is a brash young presence on the Joburg art scene, contemporary to the point of being avant-garde, a rarity in this town where the art world is generally extremely polite. A few years ago I attended the “opening” of performance artist Steven Cohen’s latest work at the Goodman Gallery. Cohen dragged himself off the floor, wearing a tutu and I think it was kudu horn boots flipping himself over onto a pommel horse while an able assistant entered from the wings and inserted a fire cracker into his ass and proceeded to light it. The audience clapped and nodded appreciatively then moved on to refill their glasses with white wine and view the rest of the exhibition. This is not a town that is easily shocked or that likes to show it. (Scroll down to pause the audio).

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