Jo'burg Art Fair in One Stop

South Africa’s Mail and Guardian offers a valuable one-stop landing page for all of their stories about this year’s Johannesburg Art Fair. With an estimate of at least 10,000 attendees–up from the previous year’s 6,000–the fair is drawing a lot of traffic. According to Ross Douglas, creator of the fair, this is one reason:

Not one of the world’s 300-odd art fairs focuses on contemporary art from Africa. Our intention with the first fair was to fill this gap. It’s not that easy. Without gallerists managing and promoting art, artists don’t find the market they need to sustain their careers. As with so much talent from the continent, Europe and the United States provided the opportunities for African greats such as Owusu-Ankomah, El Anatsui and, more recently, Romuald Hazoume to exhibit. Our solution last year was to commission Simon Njami, who captured the world’s imagination with his Africa Remix show and to a lesser extent the Africa Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale. He chose work mainly from younger artists starting to break into the international art scene. Njami’s selection of work, entitled As You Like It, attracted interest but did not sell. By contrast, local galleries sold beyond our expectations. Between R25-million and R30-million passed hands, giving the local contemporary art market a major cash injection.

And the South African art market remains fairly healthy despite the worldwide recession, at least according to this January 2009 article:

“While there is an increased interest in contemporary art in South Africa there is less cash around. It’s really an issue of liquidity rather than an issue of people becoming disillusioned with buying art,” he says. “International sales are going to be more difficult than local sales, so for South African art now it’s going to be about growing a local market.”

Gallerists in the business of art as investment are gunning for “liquidity” in the extreme, intimating that now would be a good time to send them a cool few million for a Stern or a Pierneef. According to Graham Britz, owner of Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, “one cannot save through a recession; one must invest through a recession”.

Britz calls Irma Stern, JH Pierneef, Gerard Sekoto and Maggie Laubser the “blue chip” artists — painters whose works will maintain their value even through tough times and are a relatively safe bet for investors. “These artists have well-established markets here and abroad and sold for record amounts even after the Lehman Brothers crash,” says Britz. “In the past few years people have been willing to spend a lot of money on them, so I believe they will continue to be sound investments.”

Joburg Art Fair 2009 (Mail & Guardian)