Artinfo.com‘s reporter on the ground at the Johannesburg Art Fair saw these vignettes:
One conversation, overheard on the April 2 opening night, came to define the restrained buying mood. “It has to stop now,” a business executive from SASOL, the South African petrochemical conglomerate, instructed his company’s art buyer in Afrikaans. It was unacceptable for executives laying off staff and forfeiting bonuses to see new art acquisitions flaunted at their workplace, he said.
While buying wasn’t entirely muted — London’s October Gallery sold (by telephone) a large-scale aluminum-and-copper-wire-textile drapery by Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui for $650,000 to a royal buyer from Abu Dhabi — many of the 26 participating galleries reported sluggish sales.
And here’s another vivid tale:
For first-time exhibitor Henri Vergon, [ . . . ] business was “extremely slow.” By Saturday afternoon, the second full day of trading, the South African dealer’s only major sale had been a work by Mozambican sculptor Gonçalo Mabunda, a metal chair made from recycled weapons, priced at $12,000.
“All the sales I made here were to overseas buyers,” said Vergon, who earlier in the day had asked a South African visitor to leave his booth after he made a racist remark about Mabunda’s work and its pricing. “It is disappointing to see how South Africans are reluctant to even look at African art,” Vergon added. In recent years, Mabunda’s chairs have found increased favor, including in the design world.
Joburg Art Fair Sees Sophomore Slump (ArtInfo)