Jozi Art Fairs

Jozi has a couple of art fairs during the year. Latitudes and Contra are coming up at the end of May. 

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

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 was 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. 

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.  Initially located at thge Nelson Mandela Square in 2023 it was moved to  Shepstone Gardens. Shepstone Gardens is one of Johannesburg’s premiere wedding-venues for good reason. With its iconic 3 acre garden and whacky blend of architectural building styles, it was  a perfect venue to enjoy exciting art works, art talks and walkabouts, wines from Franschhoek and a host of yummy food offerings. There were more than 40 exhibiting galleries, studios and designers located in different spectacular art hubs: “from marble halls, to secret gardens and rooftop pavilions”.  A fabulous 3 day event

This mad collection of eclectic architectural styles and buildings made for a pleasant change from the usual art fair space of a large hall in a convention centre

Contra Art Fair  (previously Open Studios)  

In 2023 RMB Latitudes partnered with Open Studios an initiative driven by Sara Hallatt the founder and director of the META Foundation, (a non-profit visual arts company based at August House). Open Studios, Now called the Contra Art Fair is held the same weekend as RMB Latitudes. Contra Art this year includes 13 inner-city studios and around 140 artists who will open their studios to the public, so people can meet the artists, see their artwork and hopefully start or augment their art collection. New spaces include Oovookoo, WLM and 11 Alexander Street.

The programme for Saturday 25th May 

  • 11 Alexander Street Studio in Ferreirasdorp  ( a new addition) established in 2019 by Dorothee Kreutzfeldt and Nolan Oswald Denis
  • Bag Factory in Fordsburg which is one of Jozi’s first collective artists’ studios
  • Rand Club will afford a usually members-only experience to see the some of the First Rand art collection as well as meet David Tlale in his studio
  • Creative Uprising Hub at Transwerke Building on the Constitutution Hill Site
  • Play Braam includes some artists’ studios at 7 De Beer St
  • WLM at 7 Loveday Street is curated by Khaya Madungandaba  
  • Grayscale Gallery  is urban art and street apparel store and gallery space in De Korte St Braamfontein 

Sunday 26th May the following are on the programme: 

  • Asisebenze Art Atelier at 28 Plein Street, hosts a wide range of artists who are as dynamic as the city in which they are based. 
Looking down on Plein street from Asisbenze Studios 0 can;t get much more inner city Jozi than this!
  • ‘Living Artists’ Emporium at the Ellis Park Tennis Courts has a heavu on-line presence
  • August House, established in 2006 at 76 End Street, Doornfontein is a very large studio space: 5 stories with more than 40 artists ‘
  • Oovookoo is a hybrid studio-gallery space at 15 Hulbert Road, Village Deep
Love Ovookoo’s Logo!!
  • Ellis House is a five-storey building at 23 Voorhout Street, Bertrams with wonderful views east to Ellis park from the top storey 
Ellis House

Shuttle transport will run in two loops on each day of Contra.Joburg, giving visitors access to every space. This is included in the ticket price.
● A shuttle will also run between RMB Latitudes Fair at Shepstone Gardens and Contra.Joburg. Tickets for RMB Latitudes must be booked separately.
● Based on demand from last year, shuttle hours have been extended, running from 10:30 until 17:00, and will run every 20 minutes.

From Sara Hallatt:

This event is a celebration of culture in the city, and an opportunity for visitors to
foster connections with the creative heart of Joburg. Join us and BE CONTRA.

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).

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




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