A multifaceted continent: Julia Taylor is an African art gallerist who uses the internet as well as brick-and-mortar innovation to sell works of art. Picture: SUPPLIED
A multifaceted continent: Julia Taylor is an African art gallerist who uses the internet as well as brick-and-mortar innovation to sell works of art. Picture: SUPPLIED

Julia Taylor describes her gallery/apartment as an organised mess. She claims she knows exactly where everything is in the space she created after she knocked down walls in the flat in Johannesburg north to realise her vision.

To the untrained eye, it at first looks like disorganised chaos but it is not — everything is elaborately arranged against walls, with each artist given a position. The apartment is partly a warehouse, where she stores art works for her international clients from around the world, and her home.

Taylor launched her gallery www.gunsandrain.com three-and-a-half years ago, representing contemporary artists from Southern Africa. It is the nerve centre of an operation that, with the help of new technology, has a global presence.

Collectors from across the world can view the artwork stacked in her apartment on the website. "It is easier to sell African art this way to the global world than through a physical gallery, as collectors would then have to visit the gallery. But now they can just order the artwork from wherever they are in the world and I get the art shipped to them," she says.

"I have negotiated the best transport deals so that a collector does not have to pay huge shipment costs. I have also registered as an importer and exporter, which has made it easier to negotiate logistical efficiencies for my clients."

Taylor says people no longer distrust internet shopping.

"Young collectors especially, who understand how technology works, do not have an issue at all ordering art that they only get to see through photographs that I post on the website. My experience has been that once they take delivery of the art, they get even more excited."

But there are some challenges and limitations to selling art online. She says it is hard for people to develop an emotional relationship with the work until they take delivery.

"Buying art is an emotional experience and that connection can only happen when you look at the actual piece of art, in a physical gallery or at an art fair," Taylor says.

She and her partner recently bought a building in Parkhurst and are converting the basement into a 60m² gallery space that will host regular exhibitions. They will live upstairs.

"This will complement the online platform, and we will continue selling art using other nonorthodox methods, such as organising pop-up exhibitions in SA and attending art fairs in SA and internationally," she says.

Taylor is selecting works for the French art fair Also Known As Africa, which focuses on contemporary African art. The fair, launched in 2016, plays a crucial role in growing global interest in African art.

Global interest in African art has increased exponentially in the past few years as the tide turns against people who viewed it through the traditional western frame and often dismissed it as ethnographic work that does not contribute to contemporary narratives on politics, economics and society.

I am looking forward to see how these works will be viewed in Paris

"These platforms help gallerists to introduce new emerging voices on the contemporary African art scene from the continent, and the mind-sets of collectors, especially in the West, are starting to shift," Taylor says.

"When I first dealt in contemporary African art globally, I used to get questions such as, ‘so you sell ethnographic art?’. Now conversations have shifted as the world is starting to understand that African art is just as good as art from anywhere else in the world."

At Also Known As Africa, which takes place in Paris from November 10-12, Taylor will exhibit the work of Namibian artists Nicola Brandt and Jo Rogge and South African artist Asanda Kupa.

Brandt’s art deals with the Herero genocide in Namibia and issues of identity that the country’s indigenous people have to grapple with after colonialism and neo-colonialism.

Rogge’s work deals with gender issues and questions about sexuality, and Kupa’s work is highly political, dealing with the power relations between those who govern SA and those who are governed.

"I am looking forward to see how these works will be viewed in Paris," Taylor says.

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