Publisher Art South Africa launches new fair for young and emerging African artists during Cape Town’s art week.
Entering That Art Fair during the morning press preview, I am immediately engaged with the set-up (or setting up). The fair is in a large, indoor parking lot in the industrial area of Salt River. It feels as though we are backstage before a show witnessing the last-minute scramble of preparation. The sound of hammers and drills, underslept artists clutching coffee and hanging the last of their work. The air is frantic somewhat disorganised, but hopeful with anticipation.
That Art Fair was held in Cape Town from Feb 27 – Mar 1 2015
I am not the only one who feels a certain energy about the space; in his opening speech Albie Sachs, the apartheid activist and former judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa, aptly points out “This is a terrific space… It’s just a space. This space is so bare, and yet so central…”
The rather ugly cement parking lot has transformed into an exhibiting opportunity for individual artists and galleries alike. Its emptiness allowing viewers and participants to bring their own experiences, to create a new narrative. In a city so mired in the recent memory and traces of a traumatic history, it is almost impossible to create a new cultural event in a ‘neutral’ location.
In its first year of existence That Art Fair was quickly organised within just two months. Publisher and Art South Africa founder Brendan Bell-Roberts explained their initiatives choice for venue. Given exorbitant rental prices in the city centre, and the fact that their offices are also in Salt River made it the obvious choice for a fair such as this. With a strong emphasis on emerging artistic practice, That Art Fair, which hopes to run again alongside the Joburg Art Fair in September, looks to offer “… an accessible platform for African artists who work under the radar of the traditional art establishment and who do things a little differently.”
Conn Bertish, ‘Share Me’ (installation view)
The fair sourced the artworks through an open call, an encouraging gesture for the individual artist operating outside of the gallery system. Many of the artists I spoke to were participating in their very first art fair. Some were recent art school graduates or representing themselves; they were there to sell work, make connections and ultimately further their career as working artists.
As the weekend progressed, more red stickers appeared next to various works, indicating that things were selling. For burgeoning collectors it was an unintimidating space where they could make their own decisions or at least be able to afford some of the work. With some smaller works selling under R1 000 (80 USD) and other paintings and sculptures fetching prices closer to R40 000 (3,205 USD) , the price range seemed diverse enough to garner interest and sales.
Viewer engages with Erin Bosenberg’s sound installation
Of course not all the work sold. I had an interesting discussion with Joburg-based artist Erin Bosenberg, about the difficulties of selling a process or performance. Her photographs and sound installation documenting a larger, on-going project involving poetry and performance did not sell, yet I was drawn to her small but neat installation and the opportunity to engage with an artwork through listening on top of looking.
Like many others who attended the fair, I was equally intrigued by the Skattie Celebrates stall which exhibited works of various emerging artists but also displayed an interview of two artists, Unathi Mkonto and Laura Windvogel. The interviews offered a sort of a context and background that allowed for an extra layer of depth, giving us more insight into the artists themselves.
Unathi Mkonto installation view presented in ‘Skattie Celebrates’
Unathi Mkonto’s installation stood out. His mix of fashion, architecture and illustration made for a distinct style and his body of work that looked at bodies was quite beautiful. Laura Windvogel’s watercolours and photographs were completely seductive and I’m sure achieved their purpose to get us thinking about sex, the hardly subversive bananas and flowers catching the eye of most viewers. I also returned to Stephen Allwright’s work a few times. Represented by Luvey ‘n Rose Gallery, his many paintings crammed together made one feel as though you were still in the artist’s studio, catching a glimpse of an idea he was still trying to perfectly capture.
Drawings and water colour works by Stephen Allwright
A little rough around the edges, with the roundtable talks starting late and the set-up quite rough, That Art Fair nonetheless remained an environment where discussion and dialogue was natural and welcome. Accessibly priced and placed, it offered an alternative approach to the Cape Town art scene, so often renowned for its exclusivity.
Navigating the art market in South Africa sometimes feels like trying to negotiate a terrifying terrain of historical hangovers. Expression, wealth, class and privilege are just below the surface of almost every conversation around art. That Art Fair contributed to making this conversation one that many more of us could be a part of.
Written by Nicola van Straaten, a Cape Town based South African choreographer and artist who graduated from the University of Cape Town. She is the co-founder of Artwolfe, a zine publication that looks at art, performance and writing in and about Namibia.
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Photos by Nicola van Straaten and Houghton Kinsman for Another Africa.