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Art and Politics Collide in South Africa's Cape Town Art Fair 2018

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

Investec Cape Town Art Fair
February 16th-18th, 2018
Cape Town International Convention Centre
Convention Square, 1 Lower Long Street, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa

By PETRA MASON, FEB. 2018

The Investec Cape Town Art Fair vernissage opened in the mother city on February 15th at the convention center. The day prior, we were treated to a curator site visit and reception at the Norval Foundation. Present on the site visit of this private museum and sculpture garden (soon to open to the public) included VIP guests N’Gone Fall, a Senegalese architect and publisher of Revue Noir (in town from Dakar); Bongi Dhlomo, an artist and cultural worker based inAlexandra Township; and the man who bought us the now legendary Johannesburg Biennale: Mr. Christopher Till. Also present were former (and highly respected) South African National Gallery director Marilyn Martin and Jack Ginsberg from Johannesburg, better known as the man with the most significant artists’ book collection on the continent of Africa--and certainly one of the largest in the world.

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

The hard-hats and top cats site tour of the Norval in Steenberg was joyfully led by Karel Nel, an artist, collector, and educator who has been working on the Norval project for a good part of the past five years. Later that evening, over at the Association for Visual Arts in central Cape Town, Christopher Till gave a speech to usher in the opening of the Pretoria University-based Javett Art Center, pointing out that Norval is one of four private art museums to open (and soon to open) in South Africa in recent years. The ZEITZ Museum opened in September 2017 on the V&A waterfront and has been in the limelight--and now it has some most welcome company.

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

This flourishing of private museums comes at a time when South African national museums have been falling apart due to poor funding from the much loathed Zuma presidency. Throughout the night, the pre-opening night crowd checked mobile updates on Zuma’s fall from power, and there was much rejoicing when later that night, on Valentine’s, Zuma clumsily announced he was indeed breaking up with the nation. As a cab driver pointed out en route to the vernissage the following night, “it’s like we were in an abusive relationship with this guy for 8 years and he dumped us on Valentine’s Day. It’s a sense of huge relief.”

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

A Pan-African crowd of beautiful people congregated at the vernissage event on February 15th. Cape Winelands wine flowed freely, and South African-born Performa director Roselee Goldberg caught up with friends between sips. For three intense days, visitors explored gallery booths from all over Africa and the rest of the world. The talk programme was riveting, with several guests from as far afield as the USA. The title of the fair was "Tomorrows/Today," and it was curated by Tumelo Mosaka, who hails from South Africa but was educated at Bard College and cut his teeth at the Brooklyn Museum.

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

Meanwhile, the planned February 16th grand opening of an exhibition of works by El Anatsui (curated by Bisi Silva) at the South African National Gallery in the Company Gardens had to be postponed to the next day due to the nation's most exciting announcement happening at the Parliament buildings precisely next door. Two days after Zuma stepped down, President Cyril Ramaposa delivered the State of the Nation address and referenced not one but two artists (musician Hugh Masekela and poet Mzwakhe Mbuli) in his talk. This gesture to the arts did not get lost among the thirsty crowds of cultural workers, artists, curators, and fairgoers who not only had to deal with the Cape’s current water crisis, but also with years of the arts being ignored by government.

To remix and rephrase President Ramaposa’s own words: "Now is the time" for South Africa to lead the charge for the rest of the continent as an African contemporary art destination. WM

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, (c) Nicky Newman

  

 

Petra Mason

 
Cultural historian and publisher. Beefcake 100% Rare, All Natural is her first Universe title, Bettie Page Queen of Curves and Bunny Yeager's Darkroom are her Rizzoli titles. Mason edited Fall 2015 Skira/Rizzoli's Imperfect Utopia.

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