Early Spring Art Week in JozI; 3 different kinds of art fairs

Three art fairs in Johannesburg:  13-16th September 2019 

Coming up in mid-September there are 3 art fairs on in Joburg. Each of these shows a different approach.

But first – what is an art fair and what is its history?   

Art fairs go way back to the Netherlands when there was a shift from predominantly religious commissions for churches, to an increasing demand for subject matter from everyday life for the domestic homes of the rising burgher middle class.  In the late 15th Century Flemish artists would set up stalls near a town’s Cathedral to sell their paintings and so the seeds of the first art fairs were sewn.  This tradition continued into the 20th Century with the 57th Street Art Fair (founded in 1948) in Chicago or the Ann Arbor Art Fair (founded in 1960) in Michigan.  

From artists selling work to dealers and galleries showcasing the work

Art Cologne established in 1967, was the first art fair of the kind that we now know. In other words it was organized by and for commercial galleries to exhibit and sell contemporary art from booths set out in imitation of small art galleries. Three years later Art Basel started. But it is really from the mid 1990s, in direct response to the competition with auction houses, that international art fairs took off. The Armory Show opened in New York in 1994;  Art Basel expanded to Miami in 2002 and Hong Kong in 2013.   Frieze Art Fair opened in Regent’s Park London in 2002, also expanding subsequently to the US – to New York in 2014 and Los Angeles earlier this year.  

Visitors stand next to an artwork by Jeff Koons entitled Sacred Heart (Magenta/Gold at the Gagosian gallery exhibition space during a preview day of 2019 Art Basel. Photo courtesy Fabrice/Coffrini /AFP/ Getty Images

The growth of the biennale – huge scale international exhibitions

And of course then there are the mega-scale contemporary art exhibitions of  international contemporary art, held every 2, 3 or 5 years. (San Paolo 1951; Documenta 1955;  Sydney 1973; Havana, Istanbul and Lyon in the ’80s;  Dakar, Sharjah, Berlin in the ’90s; and in the noughties, Yokohama and Singapore). But the founder of them all is the Venice Biennale (now the Biennale Foundation) which was first established in 1895 showcasing works from all over Europe. By 1914 seven permanent national pavilions had been established: Belgium (1907), Hungary (1909), Germany (1909), Great Britain (1909), France (1912), and Russia (1914)  By 2017 there were over 90 countries with pavilions.  The year 2007 saw the first African art pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which was soon followed by country-specific pavilions, such as the South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola and Egypt. 

Even though Support by Lorenzo Quinn wasn’t officially part of the 2017 Biennale, it was so popular that it remained in place for six months after the event closed.  Building Bridges  his massive work for the  2019 Venice Biennale.

Local Developments 

The period since 2007 has also seen growth in the number of South African art galleries, as well as international interest in South African 

2007 also saw Simon Njami’s international  Africa Remix exhibition which toured several European and Tokyo before coming to the Johannesburg Art Gallery.  28,000 visitors (probably still a record number?) viewed the 3 month long exhibition at JAG, comprising over 80 artists from 25 different countries.

Image: Part of Samuel Fosso 1997 Photographic series (self-portaits) for the Parisian Department store. Entitled Le Chef/The Chief.

And 2007 was also the first year of the FNB Joburg Art Fair.  Since 2007 there has been increase in international interest in South and African art in general.  In 2011 the UK’s Tate Gallery established an African acquisition committee and prices of local artists are continually breaking records on local and international auctions. 

So back to the 3 art fairs in Johannesburg coming up in mid-September. 

FNB Joburg Art Fair

With a change in ownership from Art Logic to Mandla Sibeko, there has been a change in structure and vision of this art fair – from “quantity to quality”.  The number of galleries invited to exhibit has been reduced to nine with a further nine included in the Gallery Lab. The Gallery Lab, as its name suggests, is seen as an experimental space for emerging artists and programmes. Some of the big name galleries are Everard Read, Gallery MOMO, Goodman Gallery, Stevenson and SMAC.  In addition there will be a large pavilion, MAX, showcasing massive sculpture (a Brett Murray), paintings (a huge painting by Misheck Masamvu), live performances, video and large-scale installations (a multimedia sculpture by Athi Patra-Ruga and a new work from Igshaan Adams).

From the SMAC stable: Jody Paulsen Lonely in the Canyon 2018  Felt Collage 318 x 206 cm Photo Courtesy SMAC Gallery

With FNB’s change in direction towards a greater emphasis on exclusivity it has opened the space for a more broadly inclusive fair.

Enter ….. 

Latitudes Art Fair

Latitudes was co-founded by the former curator of the FNB Joburg Art Fair and curator of the South African Pavilion in Venice, Lucy MacGarry and art advisor, curator and business development director Makgati Molebatsi.  The stated aim of Latitudes to “diversify the art market” (hence the deliberate change of venue to one which is a publicly accessible space ie Nelson Mandela Square)  and to a more inclusive environment, one which is not only for members of the “art industry”.  The  term ‘inclusive’ is relative, as Latitudes will feature 24 galleries from 13 different countries, and will represent emerging to “mid-career artists”.  Participating galleries and studios include David Krut Projects, Centre for the Less Good Idea, Guns & Rain and the digital art gallery TMRW Gallery.  

Underline

And the third in the offering is Underline which is showing at MOAD (Museum of African Design) in Maboneng. Unlike its Sandton sisters, where the emphasis is on galleries, Underline is an event which starts and showcases the curator.  Natasha Becker, Londi Modiko, and Lara Kosef are curators whose combined experiences include writing, research, art advisory services and participation in major international art fairs like Frieze and Art Basel. 

Instead of inviting galleries, they put out an open call to independent curators, for proposals for  exhibitions. The accepted applications get a booth to show the work of artists who are either independent artists or represented by a gallery.  Along with the emphasis on curator rather than gallery, Underline also has a different funding model.  In traditional art fairs, the galleries rent space, whereas the curators at Underline will not be paying for booths.  Instead Underline has relied on donations from organizations and industry.  The main aim of Underline’s founders, is to grow the local collector base. 

So the week-end of 13th to 16th September is jam-packed with arts events. 

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