This year, Cape Town Art Fair should prove to be ‘a different story’

Business Day Live | Matthew Partridge:



Six years ago, South Africa hosted its very own art fair in Johannesburg. Before then, few South African artists had ever exhibited on a fair, let alone been to one. Art fairs are a symptom of stable economies where buyers have disposable income to spend on art, the ultimate luxury commodity.

Visitors to the 2009 Joburg Art Fair appraise an untitled charcoal drawing by William Kentridge. Picture: SEAN O’TOOLE

Much has changed since the early days of the Joburg Art Fair (JAF). It has weathered a storm of investor insecurity with its naming rights purchased by First National Bank (FNB), so ensuring its future.

Though it is one of Africa’s major economic hubs, Johannesburg is not the prettiest place in South Africa. Despite its edgy urban appeal, tourists do not flock there, and while the Joburg Art Fair has attracted its fair share of international investment, its buyer field is generally limited to a handful of powerful locals who snap up the good stuff.

Now that all stands to change as the country gears up to host another fair, bringing some competition to the monopoly held by the Johannesburg incarnation.

Set in the tourist-friendly Mother City, the Cape Town Art Fair (CTAF) opens to the public on Friday to coincide with the much-anticipated Design Indaba, a regular event on the Cape cultural calendar. The city’s status as the world design capital also gives the fair a type of cultural capital.

Started in October last year, the first CTAF was by many accounts a damp squib, with many art insiders adopting a wait-and-see approach. Two of the country’s major galleries declined even to attend. Fast forward four months, and this year’s event is a different story. Backed by the Italian events company Fiera Milano, it will be attended by all of South Africa’s major galleries.

The proximity to the Joburg Art Fair and catching the end of the tourist season were some of the reasons for changing the date of the fair — even if, according to CTAF director Louise Cashmore, galleries at last year’s event did good business.

An art fair is not easy to put on. Without big sponsors they can turn into costly exercises. Consider the venues for the events: in Johannesburg, the Sandton Convention Centre; in Cape Town, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. For galleries this translates into thousands of rand for a booth, with the cost of a stand measured by the square metre.

“We only expect to start turning a profit after three or four years,” Ms Cashmore says, adding that the search for naming rights and sponsorship has led the fair to speak to two still undisclosed financial service providers.

In South Africa, this seems typical. FNB only lent its name to the JAF last year, and the common approach seems to be wait and see. Nevertheless, Fiera Milano has already found some partnership in the form of the Sovereign Trust, whose Sovereign Art Foundation has been working in Asia for the past 11 years.

With this expansion into the African art market there seems to be a high expectation of the boost that foreign investment can give local infrastructure.

Yet, in the long term the interesting analysis will lie in the comparison between the two fairs, one with a consistent track record and the newcomer with what seems to be all the right ingredients to bring South African art to the world.


Read this and other interesting art-icles via source: http://www.bdlive.co.za/life/entertainment/2014/02/27/this-year-cape-town-art-fair-should-prove-to-be-a-different-story