By PETRA MASON, June 2023
Recently, the once world-class African city of Johannesburg has lost its city of gold luster. On average, power cuts last an average of 9 ½ hours per day and wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods. Those who can afford it are scrambling for solar options while the rest of us rely on an app and powerful lithium inverters to decide our work day moves. While the power crisis is not new it's getting worse and hitting the local art world hard. More and more galleries and artists are looking to international art fairs to flog their wares and collectors are fleeing the country.
Little wonder then that South Africans are increasingly speaking in metaphors. With 'Co-emergence' as it's binding theme the contemporary art fair 'Latitudes' made an indelible mark on the pan-African arts calendar debuting in autumnal May. Promising ‘a new art experience’ the in-person art fair was held in a wonderland setting and presented an ‘immersive art experience’ that was held on a three-acre over-the-top hillside venue that lived up to its claim of ‘transcending traditional boundaries’. A far cry from the classic white cube exhibition space, the multi-level indoor-outdoor exhibition areas displayed a wide range of artwork featuring galleries and print studios with diverse representation from Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Spain, the Netherlands, Lisbon, Germany, UK and Canada. While several booths sold editioned prints in USD by the godfather of South African art, William Kentridge, Latitudes also showcased work by Kentridge Jr, Kentridge's artist son Sam.
Arriving at sunset on the vernissage night we clambered up through a secret garden to a baroque balcony. The venue, Shepstone Gardens, is an architectural mash-up of fantasy romantic styles and features follies and chapels, glass marquees, center courts and rooftop pavilions, allowing ample opportunities for avoiding one's art world enemies or for a private chat with friends.
For the festive weekend that was the art themed playground attracted 7000 visitors all day ‘till late. The line-up included boundary blurring talks (which are now posted on the fairs YouTube Channel). The highly curated event momentarily uniting auction houses and commercial galleries, artworld elders and even a kiddie’s zone – the tucked away RMB Young Artists’ Playground – a dedicated children’s creativity programme giving grown-ups an opportunity to walk the fair.
Further testament to its originality and style Latitudes presented a culinary feast with the ‘best of’ Joburg and vintners offering remarkable wines from the Cape and even a Lexus chauffeur service.
As a visitor to Latitudes from the vernissage night through to the end of day Sunday one's only wish was that the entire country could be run as efficiently. When I pointed this out to one of the Latitudes team she shrugged her shoulders and said un-phased ‘it's because we are all women’. WM