It’s the Art Fair. It’s the Art Fair. I don’t usually blog pre- an event, preferring to experience it for myself before I tell anyone it’s worth doing. But the FNB Joburg Art Fair is a sure thing. Opening night (by invitation only) happens tomorrow and then from Friday morning until Sunday afternoon there’s art and more art, framed and named, performances, appearances, talks of all sorts and lots of of other things in between.
#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”.
#96. Remember the Bang-Bang Club. In the late 1980s and early 90s while the people of this country’s townships were drawn into an explosive conflict and the fight against Apartheid intensified to its height, a group of press photographers risked everything to document the struggle. From Shell House to Boipatong, and the bloody war between members of the Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC, they shot their pictures amid gunfire and armed conflict and they came to be known as the Bang-Bang Club. Continue reading
#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).
#30. Secure a seat in the front row at Fashion Week for the Amanda Laird Cherry show. I joined Joburg’s fashion crowd at Sandton Convention Centre for the show last night. They were all there — skinny girls in black, supermodels showing lots of skin, fashion editors dressed to kill, blingy girls with men who looked like they had stepped off a yacht in Nice, the funky, the hip and the just plain strange. Continue reading