CAPE TOWN ART FAIR
Overlooked African artists get time in the spotlight
The friction between local, continental and international identities plays out in interesting ways at the Cape Town Art Fair, writes Mary Corrigall
If you encountered one of Jason Bronkhorst’s subjects in a park, you would head off in the opposite direction, scooping up your poodle and keeping it close to your chest. With small eyes, large ears and pointy teeth, they look like vicious bull terriers.
Yet, "people were fighting over his paintings", says MJ Turpin, artist and gallerist, recalling the demand for Bronkhorst’s art at the Kalashnikovv Gallery’s stand at the Cape Town Art Fair in 2016.
This year’s fair opens to the public on Friday at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
Turpin and Matthew Dean, his partner in the gallery, were surprised and excited by the interest in the disordered-looking pink-faced subjects of Bronkhorst’s. There isn’t much cultural cachet attached to white men — unless they are "trans" or albino — even though they appear to still rule the world and the annual billionaire rich lists.
Turpin and Dean are regarded as the new vanguard in edgy young art, but they are guided by sales, not fashionable attitudes. For this reason, they will pack new Bronkhorst paintings in their van before hitting the highway to Cape Town.
And 34 other commercial galleries participating in this annual art fair are also hoping that they will show the art that sells this year.
This is what makes art fairs predictable. Goodman will show William Kentridge. Stevenson will rely on Zander Blom, Wim Botha, Penny Siopis and Moshekwa Langa. Blank Projects has a star in Igshaan Adams – hip-hop star Usher bought his work at a New York fair.
Smac Gallery has Ed Young, Cyrus Kabiru and Jody Paulsen, whose recent solo exhibition at the Cape Town gallery had the chattering classes lamenting that they had maxed out their credit cards before the opening.
The Everard Read Circa franchise will have a stand brimming with their usual eclectic mix of art for any taste. A 3m-tall sculpture by Brett Murray of a double bull titled Again, will be a talking point at their stand.
The Cape Town Art Fair will occupy more space than last year, suggesting that the market for art is expanding. But its new curator, Tumelo Mosaka, insists that the art fair model in SA is a hybrid one.
There will be several stands by noncommercial entities such as museums that this year will include the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art that is due to open in September.
Mosaka dreams of expanding the fair’s parochial purview. "I would like other cultural institutions outside SA to come to it, but they don’t have any money. We can offer a platform, but they need the resources to use it. We need more fundraising."
His outlook on African art will be on display on the Today’s Tomorrow stand, a platform for emerging artists from the continent. The emerging title is a little bit of a stretch — Tanya Poole is a lecturer in the field who guides emerging talent. Joël Andrianomearisoa from Madagascar has enjoyed a decade-long international career and Serge Attukwei Clottey also has a name on the world stage.
But the fair has grown substantially since last year, with more artists and works, becoming a portal for art from the continent. Researchers studying the global art market and tracking the rise of emerging markets show that African contemporary art sits at the bottom of the pile. Sales of art produced by artists in Latin America and Russia outstrip those from Africa.
The friction between local, continental and international identities, real and perceived, plays out in interesting ways at this art fair, due to its setting and the nationality of the organisers — Fiera Milano, an Italian company — and the audience it attracts. What is certain is that sales define this event and who will show again next year.
The Cape Town Art Fair is at the Cape Town International Conference Centre from February 17 to 19.