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THE SOUTH AFRICAN
Photo: Paul Weinberg (detail)
South African Art Times.
The South African
April 2008 www.arttimes.co.za Global Art Information
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Alex Dodd reports back from the Joburg Art Fair 2008
Ping! I’ve got mail. And… it’s the official postmortem press release summing up the exhilaratingly manic buying and networking frenzy that was the first Joburg Art Fair, during which 22 major galleries took up 5000 square metres of the high-rent Sandton Convention Centre to tout the largest collection of African and South African contemporary art the world has ever seen beneath one roof. So what’s the verdict? ‘A resounding success,’ trumpets the release. ‘More than 6 500 people attended… with nearly R30-million worth of art work sold during the four-day art bonanza.’ Phew, R30-million! That’s a whole lot of aesthetic hunger, proving Artlogic impresario Ross Douglas’s persuasive claim that African contemporary art is a highly magnetic investment in an otherwise wobbly economy in which property, for one, has taken an all too sobering nosedive and a tank of petrol is costing as much as an impromptu sketch by painterly satirist Lizza Littlewort of Whatiftheworld fame. But ‘a resounding success’? Is that an honest verdict? I’d say so. Of course, behind every headline hides a knotty compound of contesting viewpoints. So let’s unpack a few of them. Firstly, let’s get the curmudgeonly murmurs from the holier-than-thou clan of wannabe Gilles Deleuzes out of the way. The main muffled disgruntlement that seemed to circulate the peripheries of the late capitalist empire while the Fair was underway was a criticism of its commercial nature. ‘All that unconscionable moolah… exclusive highbrow Sandton Convention Centre… too white… kugel fetishism… lack of meaningful analysis… shallow market driven tastes… bla bla bla.’ Well, to me, that seemed like a naïve and misguided argument, like griping about the price of caviar in the food hall at Les Galleries Lafayette. Obviously it’s a commercial endeavour. It’s an Art Fair, the equivalent of an upscale hypermarket for the tastefully inclined consumer of rare goods of mercurial hyper-inflated value. And since when has art been so exempt from capitalism’s filthy tentacles in the first place? ‘People tended to romanticize the Fair,’ says gallerist David Brodie, who successfully used the Art Fair as an opportunity to boost the growing reputation his new gallery Art Extra and profile his younger artists. ‘With the ghost of CAPE hovering on the periphery, people were desperate for it to be so many other things, but you couldn’t pretend it’s was a biennale. An art fair is a trade show, like a glorified Rand Show, but instead of Kreeply Kraulies being on the floor, there are R150 000 sculptures.’ So we’ll start by accepting that Art Fairs worldwide are ruthlessly mercenary market-driven events. The other slightly more legitimate beef was on the part of the gallerists, who were rumoured to be a little nose out of joint about the fact that, As You Like It, the panAfrican show originated by the organizers and curated by Simon Njami of Africa Remix acclaim, was a commercial endeavour. The argument was that this put the paid-up galleries in competition for sales with the organizers who ceased to be a neutral, disinterested party. This niggle ended up being something of a red herring, because the curated show turned out to be a fairly dismal proposition and one of the Fair’s few weaknesses. As much as I might be a fan of Njami’s critical thinking and writing, As You Like It struck me as being a uniformly uncompelling and fairly shoddily put together affair. And by Sunday afternoon, I didn’t notice too many red stickers on those dark black walls in the centre of the room, which some had started to describe as ‘the Black Hole’ referring to the negative spatial dynamics of the show’s layout. And while we’re on weaknesses, the other aspect Artlogic could improve upon next year, is finding a better way to accommodate the schmooze factor – that crucial social aspect of art world networking. Although the organizers did put a fair amount of effort into curating the Joburg Art Week – a parallel programme of events that took place in and around the Fair itself – most of these events, including the big Saturday night disco meltdown, were located downtown. There was no designated slinky bar or lounge where buyers and artists could meet over a Martini to discuss their mutual prospects in Dubai. I was told by one disappointed international scenester that at Miami Basel there’s an unofficially decreed spot where everyone knows they’ll catch a bit of art fair action. Hopefully we can look forward to rubbing shoulders with rising stars of the local art world at such a joint next year. Then there’s the issue of prices. The Fair was supposed to offer an in for first time buyers, but I couldn’t find anything worthwhile under the R7 000 tag – hardly an enticing prospect for the aspirant collector. But let’s not nitpick. For an inaugural event, the Art Fair was a dazzling success and you couldn’t but get excited by the hugeness of the moment at the glitzy opening night party, where FNB suits, Desperate Housewife stilettos, auteur hats and fashionista waistcoats shimmied through the stalls taking in the best contemporary work that South African and international galleries have to offer right now. One had an electric sense of all the gallerists stepping up to the mark in a big, bold way – each putting his very best foot forward to ensure the rent was worth it. There was also evidence of artists, using the Fair as a public incentive to rise to their own private occasions. I was struck, for example, by the freshness of the Wayne Barker series People Who Love Themselves, on show at the NSA stand. These small glowing portraits were something we haven’t seen from Barker before, something new and daring to show off at the Fair.
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Then there was the frisson between the hard-talking Jo’burg galleries and their straight-dressing artists, and the more oblique, understated Cape Town galleries and their Diesel-drag, mulletcoiffed brigade of hipster fiends. The difference between the art scenes in these two urban centres is fairly polar. But opposites attract and the Douglas says that all the galleries that participated in this year’s show have signed up again for next year and that ten more galleries will be added to the 2009 extravaganza.
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And if you didn’t read about it here, you could have read about it in the Dutch Financial Times, online at Art + Auction or ArtInfo or seen it on CNN. It seems that the Joburg Art Fair was the big global breakthrough we all hoped it would be and there are a fair number of gallerists and artists who are laughing all the way to the bank as a result of it. (Three editions of Angus Taylor’s epic R1-million rock sculpture were sold at the Everard Read stand on the opening night alone.) Personally though, as gratifying as it was to cruise those stalls and absorb the ripples of the whole goddamn scene under one roof, I think I’ll save my pennies for less peak moments on the global art calendar.
South African Art Times.
Joburg Art Fair pulls R27-m success
Not all the galleries were looking to turn a buck at the fair but most profited, writes Mary Corrigall
at the fair; many of the smaller gallery owners also waxed lyrical about their takings. One small independent Joburg gallery that preferred to remain anonymous said they received a 500 percent return on their investment in the art fair. Not only did this gallery sell everything in their stand but they secured 40 advance orders for artworks from their small stable of artists. “We totally underestimated what the sales were going to be like, had we known we would have brought more art with us to the fair,” he said. As a new gallery still establishing a name and a client base they found the art fair to be an indispensable marketing tool. “We left the fair with a register full of names and contact numbers of prospective clients,” beamed the gallery’s owner. Many up-and-coming Cape Town-based galleries, however, seemed to be less enthusiastic about their financial returns, implying that they hadn’t participated in the fair to garner sales. “We approached the fair with a different objective; we are a young gallery and we wanted to make a statement. I think it was obvious from the Julia Rosa Clarke installation that selling wasn’t our top priority,” said Justin Rhodes, co-owner of the Whatiftheworld gallery. Most gallerists observed the majority of the 6 500 visitors to the art fair to be primarily Joburgers and first-time buyers. “It is great that there were a lot of new clients; it means the market is growing. If the entrance fee was cheaper (it cost R200) it might have encouraged a wider selection of buyers,” observed Rhodes. Heidi Erdmann of the Erdmann Contemporary and Photographers Gallery in Cape Town concurred with Rhodes, suggesting that the majority of her sales were to novice collectors and that recurrent art buyers didn’t venture past the Joburg galleries they normally patronised. She also noticed the absence of corporate buyers. “There were no international curators, publishers or media at the art fair like you get at international art fairs.” Erdmann clocked up sales but said she did not participate in the art fair to make money. “I make enough sales from my gallery I don’t need to attend an art fair to acquire sales.” Erdmann participates in art fairs around the world and says that her primary motive for taking part is to network with international curators and publishers so as to promote the artists she represents. For that reason she felt that the Joburg Art Fair was disappointing. Erdmann also felt that the booths were not competitively priced. “A booth at a New York art fair costs half the price. Even Paris Photo only charge R120 000 for a booth and at least you have exposure to a wider international audience,” she said. The stands at the Joburg Art Fair cost R1000 per square metre, making the 200 square metre stands come with a price tag of R200 000, according to Douglas. Based on most gallerists’ favourable feedback, however, it seems that everyone did recoup their costs. Well, except for Artlogic that made a loss of R1-million, according to Douglas, who was unfazed by the outcome. “We expected to lose money in the first year, we will probably only make a profit in the third year,” he said. As one may have gathered from Douglas’ remarks, the Joburg Art Fair will not be a once off event. Douglas said that all of the 22 galleries that participated this year and ten additional galleries have already expressed interest in taking part in the 2009 Joburg Art Fair. While no galleries have signed on the dotted line as yet, Bedford, Rhodes and Michau said they were all looking forward to attend the fair next year. “The art fair really created a sense of community between gallerists and dealers, I think we have learnt that we need to all stand together to make an impact internationally,” said Rhodes.
FINE ART GALLERY
Although most gallerists were keeping their sales figures close to their chests, by all accounts the first Joburg Art Fair was a roaring commercial success. According to Ross Douglas, head of Artlogic, the firm that staged the event, accumulative sales amounted to R27 million. “It was a financial success. If - you compare the figures with the Glasgow Art Fair that has been running for a decade and only did a turnover of around £1.2 –million last year we are doing incredibly well for our first year,” said Douglas.
t Artworks were flying off the makeshift walls at the fair, observed Emma Bedford, director of Goodman Cape. “Everybody was really upbeat. We sold a phenomenal amount of work; we had to rehang everyday. Linda (Givon) had reservations before the show but she is beaming now,” said Bedford.
Philip Barlow, Pause. 100 x 150 cm
Jacques Michau of the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg dwas more than satisfied with his gallery’s takings. “The sales were good.” The Everard Read did not sell all the artworks they displayed but they had no problem shifting several pricier works in the R1million region. It was also rumoured that a 1947 artwork by Gerard Sekoto, which was displayed at Michael Stevenson’s curated show, Travel I Your Road and Travel Along, s fetched over R5m. But it wasn’t just the big galleries that enjoyed financial success
A showcase for the best of South African Masters, as well as some leading contemporary artists.
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Photo documentary of The Joburg Art Fair 2008. All photographs by John Hodgkiss, courtesy of Art Logic
South African Art Times.
Visitors outside Gallery MOMO’s Stall
Artist Wayne Barker in good form during interview on the opening night
Justin Rhodes and Cameron Munro’s What if the World Gallery
Conrad Botha beautiful wall art on Michael Stevenson Gallery stall wall
Inside the Joao Ferreira Stall
Warren Siebritz and friend at Warren Siebritz Contemporary Stall
Joburg Art Fair Director: Ross Douglas and Cobi Laubuscagne on the opening night
South African Art Times.
GG_ArtTimes_83x200_310308 3/31/08 4:17 PM Page 1
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Stern, Irma (1894 - 1966) ‘Still Life with Dahlias in a Vase’, Oil on canvas, 76.5 x 76.5 cm. Signed ‘Irma Stern’ (lower/right). Dated 1941
THE MODERN PALIMPSEST: ENVISIONING SOUTH AFRICAN MODERNITY
THE OPENING OF AN EXHIBITION OF SOUTH AFRICAN MASTERS FROM 1853 ONWARDS, ON 29 MAY 2008 AT 7PM.
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Outside the busy Everard Read Gallery Stall – with Angus Taylor’s giant sculptures
South African Art Times.
Andries Botha’s new street piece...
Latitude 33° 55’ South. Longitude 18° 22’ East As a Cape battle about public sculpture commissions continues, a private initiative is unveiled.
By Melvyn Minnaar At a time when public sculpture is very much in the news - some being stolen by scallywags, other proposals being questioned by disaffected artists - a quiet little street art event in Cape Town’s newly-glamorous Waterkant suggests that a private commission can pull it off. Pull-it-off, in this instance, is a wellchosen, loaded description of the sequence of events that led to the unveiling, on a cheerful late-summer afternoon, of Kwazulu/Natalbased artist Andries Botha’s kinetic street piece in Hudson Street. Let’s put it this way: 24 hours before the party for the formalities on the doorstep of architect Leon Saven’s elegant new multi-purpose building, The Hudson, the fancy concrete bollards that act as lighters of the sculpture piece had not been cast. The custom-designed hoist had barely been through it test runs and some of the slabs still had to be positioned. At the Origin pavement table next door, Andries Botha was cheerfully sipping a flat white and explaining how the concept developed. In typical Botha fashion, the piece, enigmatically-named Latitude 33° 55’ South. Longitude 18° 22’ East, had taken some wonky turns and, more importantly, challenged his collaborating craftspeople to the hilt.
Unfazed over coffee, he clearly had full confidence that the skilful men who work with the basics would pull it off. Next night, when the mysterious, metre-square wooden cube of L 33° 55’ S. L 18° 22’E slowly rose from the depths below the pavement, his trust was proved. And after the speeches, he called them all up to take the salute. It was Marilyn Martin, Iziko director, doing the official unveiling, who pointed out Botha’s way of working with others, charging their skills and craft; also his manner of giving them acknowledgement, while challenging their processes. To have produced L 33° 55’ S. L 18° 22’E for a real street life, did indeed throw up tricky questions for engineers and building craftsmen to answer. So what is L 33° 55’ S. L 18° 22’E ? What does Cape Town’s newest privately-commissioned public art work comprise? Hudson streetwalkers will find to the left of the entrance to the new building an area of some four square metres that seems paved by curiously-carved flat panels. Closer inspection reveals a kind of flattened three-dimensional, stylised topographical landscape laid out in half-metre square cement-cast ‘tiles’. Stand around for a while, or sit on one of the three bollard-seats,
and a gentle hiss announces the lifting of four central pieces of the landscape jigsaw, as a cube of dark teak wood slowly rises. It glimmers and then you realise the wood is wet, as it sinks back, unannounced. The impact of the strangeness of
On ‘opening night’ some ‘tiles’ had already been chipped. It is remarkably tempting to walk on the deliciously uneven surface. Botha explained that the multilayered concept started when he stood admiring the open lifts as it
that run into the sea. Of course, the ‘lifting’ of a square from the deep of the landscape has a parallel to typical archaeological ‘digs’. Andries Botha’s new artwork on a Cape Town street is a delightful addition to our cluttered civic
making the news - mostly for the wrong reasons. A tragedy was the theft and horrible destruction of the bronze memorial at the magistrate’s court in Athlone for ANC cadres Coline Williams and Robert Waterwitch. Sadly sold to a scrap metal dealer for allegedly R9 000, the work was commissioned in 2005 for some R330 000. (Now if only the team of thieves knew that!) Equally sad about that incident was the fact that none of the newspapers cared to name the artists who had conceived and produced this, one of the very few smart and elegant, public sculptures in the city. There was no mention in the news of master sculptors Guy du Toit and Egon Tania. A few weeks later, when the city authorities announced that Wilma Cruise and Gavin Younge’s concept for the new Slave memorial on Church square was accepted, a minor rebellion broke out, seemingly mostly by artists who had their eye on the commission.
the action and the water, softly dramatic, oddly engaging, obviously needs to be tested against many, many casual passers-by on the pavement. But, at least in theory - make that a hefty, clever theory - the concept sits well with the idea of art that stops you on the street. The physicality is cool even hip, yet one will wonder how it will stand up to wear and tear.
took off behind the solid glass that backgrounds the space originally reserved for a public sculpture. His idea was not to obscure that scene, and then to parallel the flight of the lift movement. Flying back to Durban, the landscape view down inspired the topographical design. The idea of the wet block of hard teak comes from the durable, wooden jetties
environment. The fact that it was privately commissioned is an important marker. As Martin pointed out, sadly there is no tradition of commissioning art when new building plans and budgets are drawn up. The new Botha piece was unveiled at a time when other contemporary commissioned monuments were
All this, of course, once again stirred up the everlasting controversy about public art and that bugbear of democracy: consultation - and who decides. Naturally, a public commission like that in Hudson street, will have none of that.
South African Art Times.
Rise in copper price and low theft conviction rate gives pause for thought on the use of new cheaper materials for public sculpture
Patrick Burnett talks with some leading sculptors on the matter
Life-sized bronze statues of struggle heroes Robbie Waterwitch and Coline Williams, MK cadres killed in an explosion outside the Athlone Magistrate’s Court on July 23, 1989, were brazenly stolen in March from opposite the Athlone police station. The thieves, who attempted to sell the statues for scrap metal, apparently attached ropes to the figures and then toppled them with the help of a bakkie, before loading them up and driving away. However, a City of Cape Town task team known as the Copperheads tracked down 300kg of the carvedup statues and 10 suspects were arrested. They appeared in the Athlone Magistrate’s Court on March 13 and their case is set to continue on May 30. Shirley Gunn, director of the Human Rights Media Centre, was quoted in newspaper reports as saying that the Athlone thefts would force a reflection on the security and maintenance of materials used in community memorials. She said it was sad materials used by artists were easily carted off for short-term gain. “It has affected me very deeply. The community should talk about these things that undermine our democracy and what we fought for,” said Gunn. The Athlone statues, created by Guy du Toit and Egon Tania, are the latest in a wave of metal thefts from public spaces. Rising metal prices, especially for copper, have driven the thefts, which raise important questions for public artworks made from valuable materials. The South African Art Times asked five artists and sculptors for their thoughts on the thefts and the implications for public art, including whether the thefts would lead to an increase in the use of materials with lesser value such as cement and plastic. Angus Taylor Creator of numerous sculptures, including one of Brenda Fassie in Newtown, Johannesburg There are problems with plastic and cement. The problem with concrete is it works as a closed composition but might crack and break where the thin pieces meet up with thicker sections, due to expansion differences, so an open hand, for example, won’t work. With plastic it is a longevity issue as it is a material that has not been around for such a long time as bronze. But it’s not just as simple as concrete or plastic. The problem is that there is little technical capacity out there. At universities there is little technical training, with an increased focus on the conceptual aspects. People must think pragmatically and out of the box. Technology allows a great variety of new possibilities which were not available 50 years ago, yet we still only, or mostly, think of ‘model-mould-cast-methods’. Andries Botha Award-winning sculptor I am making a concrete sculpture at the moment and it was not guided by that [the problem of theft] but it is a massive problem. Even the informed public is not respectful of creativity in the public space. If we move away from art in the public space then we lose the opportunity to engage it as part of the public discourse. We should be addressing ways in which to manage the public space. Part of the responsibility is the responsibility of the management of public space. Brett Murray Created the public sculpture Africa in Cape Town If people want to work in bronze – and it is a seductive, hardy material – then people must work with it. It does not lie with the artist to change, it is the responsibility of the police to bring the culprits to justice and put them in jail. I suppose one must just secure the works better. There are criminals out there who want to steal and it says nothing about the state of public art. You can educate people about the value of public art, but if it’s not secured properly and the metal is valuable it will be stolen. Stephen Hobbs Well-known artist The issue with theft is interesting. We get commissioned a lot to do public art work and it is specified that the work must be durable and ‘unstealable’. The Juta Street trees in Johannesburg made from 4mm mild steel have sustained a bit of graffiti, but to this day not a single one has been stolen and they have been integrated into the street. The neighbourhood seems to have embraced them as valuable to enhancing the environment. Working
(Above) Pieter van Dalen member of the crack “Copperheads” unit who’s teams investigation recovered the sculpture within 3 days of theft. (Below) a once moving statue of the struggle heroes on their way to bomb their target (it is suspected that they picked up the tampered limpet mine from a counter insurgency member) (Right) Memory dismemberment - hacked pieces of the sculpture ready for the smelter. (all photo’s, bar the left image of intact sculpture by Guy du Toit and Egon Tania. - are by Neil Baynes of allround photography.com Working with bronze or any kind of valuable metal is a pointless exercise. The challenge to public artists is to come up with inventive ways to work within the confines of durable but undesirable materials so that the work still looks stunning. Guy du Toit Created the sculpture of Waterwitch and Williams in association with Egon Tania It would be sad not to cast things in bronze, but it’s becoming a real problem with the copper price going through the roof. There are certain things you can do with metal that you can’t do with cement or plastic. Bronze has an intrinsic value that makes it precious. I think it will take quite a while before people take cement as seriously as they do bronze. I’m very biased towards bronze, but don’t have a problem in working in a material that has little value.
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Paul Du Toit (1922- 1988) Abstract Trees. Signed and dated 1953. Oil on Board 460 x 395 mm
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