Paul Mrkusic (CEO of SAADA) | Supplied:
“Like parts of New York City, the Cape Town CBD has an alive electricity – there is something going on 24/7. I dashed across the gridlocked street, dodging warm, metallic clouds of exhaust fumes and hooter blasts, reached the discreet Hout Street hole-in-the-wall I was seeking, rang the simple doorbell and climbed the concrete stairs to the top floor, where upon I entered a cavernous white-and-light warehouse.
Perched above the city, it is from this lofty yet hidden space – more a studio than a gallery – that art dealer João Ferreira orchestrates his business. Working in the South African art market for over 20 years, in 1998 João opened the first contemporary art gallery in Cape Town, and has since served as a key figure in the emerging stages of this now thriving market.
Considered one of South Africa’s leading dealers for contemporary artists and art collectors, he is a true trailblazer of the modern and contemporary art scene. Like the art he exhibits and promotes – layered, mysterious, and dark in way that is up-lifting more than melancholic – João himself is discreetly arresting rather than brash: with a smiling twinkle in his eye, he has the easy and sincere charm of a true Capetonian that you immediately like.
Describing instead the fire that, a couple of years ago, engulfed his gallery and the collection it contained, João let the visible art pieces speak for themselves. But, like a family of phoenixes, they were impossible not to notice. João does not sell pretty art: they are pieces that captivate you and evoke an instant response. You either like a work or you don’t… but once a piece has you, it grabs your hand, takes you on a ride, and won’t let you go.
Through his ongoing focus on connoisseurship and collector motivation, João Ferreira is one of Cape Town’s most knowledgeable and highly regarded names in the industry, and after my morning with him in his gallery, it is easy to see why. Instead of simply showcasing works, he offers a personal service to private clients, and his interest lies in creating debate while facilitating the establishment and enrichment of collections. His representation of many of South Africa’s influential and award-winning artists has led to appearances at international exhibitions and art fairs.
The science and study of money and related objects, formally known as Numismatics, has fascinated people since money first began
My next stop, before hot-footing it back to the airport, was to a tearoom to meet Natalie Joffe of City Coins. We were here to talk about money… But, you guessed it: with Table Mountain keeping a watchful eye over us, it was not in any tacky sense.
The science and study of money and related objects, formally known as Numismatics, has fascinated people since money first began to be used thousands of years ago. Indeed, archaeologists in the ancient ruins of Pompeii – a city preserved in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted – found jars packed with coins. Whether they formed collections, or were in fact being hidden from the tax collector, remains a point of contention!
For Natalie Jaffe, owner of City Coins, a Cape Town based collector’s haven, the attraction of coin collecting lies in “wanting to hold a piece of history in your hands.” Referring to the Numismatic objects that she and her staff deal in, she adds, “they can give a fascinating insight into the social patterns, heraldry, languages and monarchies of the time they were in use.”
After about 40 years in the business Jaffe has learnt that to empower her clients, whether through her expertise or extensive network, is her most important function. The joy in her work lies in providing a personalised, customized service to collectors of the huge variety of beautiful things that fall under the Numismatics umbrella.
As far as the value of an object to a collector goes, rarity, historical significance, the state of preservation and the artistic merit of the artwork adorning it all play a part. Every coin, banknote, medal and token has a story to tell.
Here is the story of one: the first half-pennies ever “struck” (the process of manufacturing coins) in England were produced under the rule of Halfdene, a Viking invader. He and his army occupied London in 872 and set up the mint, which issued the half-penny as well as other coins. Holding a coin of this era in your hand conjures vivid imagery, perhaps prompting a curiosity that leads to historical investigation. Tracking the coin down will, in itself, offer multiple challenges and rewards for the enquiring mind.
The more you delve into the stories that these artefacts tell, the more fascinating it becomes
“One of my favourite quotes about Numismatics,” says Jaffe, “is from Friedrich Creuzer a historian from the late 1800’s. He characterized the coin as ‘a mirror of the ancient world, which indicates the progress of the arts, that accompanies human society in all its aspects, civic life, laws, institutions, wars, conquests, peace treaties, changes of government, trade and alliances.’ ”
The more you delve into the stories that these artefacts tell, the more fascinating it becomes, because they are the stories of the cultural, artistic and political evolution that has led up to the present,” says Jaffe, who has run City Coins. She was President of the South African Numismatic Society (SANS) for many years under the patronage of the Minister of Finance, and was selected to be the South African representative for the London based international numismatic firm Dix, Noonan, Webb.
While many women work in the Numismatic industry, she is the only woman in the world to own and run a ground floor business dealing in all aspects of Numismatics. Attempting to sum up her passion for Numismatics, Jaffe describes it as, “the story of art and war, kings and slaves and gold and dust. Ultimately, it is the story of life.”
That magic can be yours too make sure you visit the annual SAADA Antique, Art & Design Expo at The Lookout Venue in the V&A Waterfront precinct
Two hours Gauteng-bound squished between a pair of over-sized Democrats, as they punched my ears discussing the many virtues of Trump’s recent triumph, drenching me in spittle, it was hard to believe that I’d ever actually been in the fairest Cape… But I had, and the vast magic of it all was still dancing around my mind.
That magic can be yours too: make sure you visit the annual SAADA Antique, Art & Design Expo at The Lookout Venue in the V&A Waterfront precinct, Friday 17 to Sunday 19 February – a collection of 30 top dealers and galleries from across South Africa in one space, it’s the Aladdin’s Cave of Cape Town!”
SAADA CAPE TOWN EXPO 2017:
17 – 19 February 2017
at V & A Waterfront, Granger Bay Blvd, Cape Town
Thursday, 16 February 2017
OPENING DAYS & TIMES
Friday, 17 February 2017 (10am till 8pm)
Saturday, 18 February 2017 (10am till 7pm)
Sunday, 19 February 2017 (10am till 5pm)
South Africa’s premier selection of accredited Antique, Art & Design dealers. Join us in our plutonium powered time machine and flit across the ages, along our Period Passageway.
Image: Painting by Frans Smit (represented by Art in the Yard at SAADA Cape Town Expo)