Cape Town’s art fair

Art players and enthusiasts from around the world and down the street will coalesce at the Cape International Convention Centre 17-19 February for the latest staging of the Cape Town Art Fair. Now in its 5th iteration, the fair’s gallery participation and audiences have grown as the global interest in African art has blossomed. This year’s fair, led by the celebrated curator Tumelo Mosaka, features an impressive lineup of contemporary art galleries from across the continent and beyond as well as art talks, creative publications, limited edition prints, large scale sculptures and new works from rising artists specially selected by Mosaka. To dive into the dynamics at play with the Cape Town Art Fair as a critical reorientation of the art world, Neelika Jayawardane and Zachary Rosen spoke to Mosaka about place, access, and the balance between the market and creativity.

Art Fairs have become a mainstay of the global art market, connecting the creative world with the commercial in one geographical and physical location, condensing that interaction and exchange into an intense few days. Art fairs were usually located in the geopolitical West; but in the past ten years, a few pioneering art professionals have created the space for fairs in the Global South. Gallery owners and collectors need to choose where to put their time and resources carefully, given that the art fair calendar spoils them for choice. How would you position Cape Town Art Fair (CTAF) within the larger scene of global art market events? 

The CTAF is well positioned. We’ve seen contemporary African artists becoming a lot more visible abroad and some fetching high prices. This has provided momentum and interest in what is happening in Africa. So CTAF in this regard is well placed to be the platform to showcase art from this part of the world and beyond.

Most art fairs have a reputation of being elite, exclusive spaces and Cape Town in particular has legacy of discrimination and displacement that continues to this day. How has Cape Town Art Fair responded to the challenge of accessibility for different audiences?

This continues to be a struggle as the legacy of exclusion is something that over time will be eradicated. However, we have to remain vigilant and address it as we go along. In this regard, we have planned several Walkabouts for visitors to walk through the fair with experts. As well as a Talks program, which presents scholars, critics, curators, collectors and gallerists to discuss issues related to the art market and cultural production. And finally we are working with community groups such as Lalela who will be running workshops for young people at the V & A Waterfront. These workshops are open to all ages and are free to the public. Also there will be a family guide available at the information desk to help navigate your way through the fair.

When curating an art fair experience how do you balance the pleasure of encountering creative work with the sales-driven reality of the art market?

This is one of the challenges you have to embrace, sometimes the most provocative work, is not easily marketable. So yes, between thinking creatively and understanding the context of where the work will be presented, you then have to make the decision whether this will work. There is no formula except to speculate on impact and value both culturally and economically.

How did you interest galleries from around the world, as well as African and South African galleries to take part in the Cape Town Art Fair?

On its 5th edition, the fair has already established a certain reputation locally, and now given the broadening interest by overseas collectors, international galleries are beginning to sign on. I think working on this scale is about opening up and engaging the world and this means that we have to see ourselves as participating in global conversation.

International art fairs featuring works by artists of African heritage have become increasingly popular and the market for such works is expanding. Are audiences meaningfully engaging with the aesthetic qualities of the artwork…or do you see more collectors who are after a representative piece or two of “African Art” that elevate them socially, or as “investment pieces”?

I don’t think you can reduce it to one or two modes consuming the art from Africa. I think today we are seeing a lot of new collectors who want to learn more about art but are too intimidated as contemporary art is still seen as foreign element. I think for some institutional validation gives them security to buy but I’m also noticing that people want to live with the works and are responding to what interests them. This is very healthy because it means that public option doesn’t always determine which works are collected.

In what ways can we ensure that collecting art produced by African artists is not a passing trend? How can we rather build relationships for successive generations of collectors, curators and artists for fruitful, meaningful connections?

I think it’s through education not only through formal structures but also through access and exposure.

The new Museum of Contemporary Art Africa under construction right now is on people’s minds as it begins to cast its shadow on the Cape Town Waterfront. How do you think this new space will impact the art scene in Cape Town and beyond?

It is already doing that. People are already talking about it and waiting to see what it will bring. Internationally I hope it will be a space to see exciting works from abroad as well as facilitate cultural exchanges between here and elsewhere. The scale and focus on contemporary art has a great potential to affect not only Cape Town, but the continent as nothing like this exists anywhere on the continent.

As Curator, what is your larger curatorial vision for this fair?  What mark would you like to leave on the Cape Town Art Fair?

What I would like to see happening is Cape Town becoming the focal point for viewing contemporary African art. This does not happen over night but has to be a long-term goal that involves developing and nurturing relationships here and around the world.

For more information on CTAF, see here.  Africa is a Country is a partner of the Art Fair. 

Africa is a Country

Not the continent with 54 countries.

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