Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The art of Art Fairs

Art fairs seem to be emerging all over. A good thing. All important for the art world, and more importantly for the African art world.

The FNB Joburg Art Fair, in its 6th year this year, is one of the many important art fairs that takes place annually on the African continent. This years fair took place at the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg from the 27 to 29 September 2013, as always, a great fair, and it continues to grow by the years.

The Ayanda Mabulu painting and the controversy surrounding it during the art fair, was a victory for the freedom of expression and for visual artists in general. The media was out in full force to let the public know about the censorship and Ayanda won the spotlight. A few interesting media comments l read......

"Douglass and Labushagne decided this was too controversial for them and removed the painting. Really, what did they expect, for goodness’ sake............They claim they didn't want to offend any politicians who would be attending, because some of their funding comes from government. Well, there's the first problem. Art and governments don't mix. That's kinda the point of art. Government is by definition the establishment. Artists, also by definition, are anti-establishment. And so the two will always collide." Stephen Groote, Daily Maverick, 30 Sept 2013 <Link>

Another interesting article was on Business Day Live:

"....Nonetheless, it is understandable that Douglas expected a high-level backlash against a picture directly castigating President Jacob Zuma — as an individual or as a symbol of the state — in relation to the Marikana tragedy. The government’s inability to tolerate criticism has made politicians the last sacred cows. Crass treatment of the human body, profanity, religious iconoclasm and anything else that might offend the prudish viewer do not seem to fall into the same category; if they did, Mabulu’s other exhibited works would also have had to go......" Chris Thurman, BDLive, 3 Oct 2013 <Link>

These two interested me, amongst the whole lot that was over the press about this. l have two points to make though.

One, whilst l am glad for Ayanda and delighted for the victory of the visual arts against censorship, l feel that, altogether, it was a bit unfair on the part of the art world in that all was focused on that, and neglected the other great artworks that were part of the fair. It took away from the other important and great artworks that were part of the fair. There were less or no media focus on other great artworks from artists like Mohau Modisakeng, Ed Young, Nnenna Okore, Ayanda Jackson, Mary Sibande, Norman Catherine, Valerie Belin among others, whom l personally thought their work was great and powerful. (see pictures here)


Ayanda Mabulu, 'Yakhal'inkomo' (Pic: City Press)
Two, l also stress the need for the artwork to come first and the message after. In other words, the artwork must be skillfully and well executed, correct in terms of all visual conventions - perspective, composition, anatomy of figures, colour. There is a thin line between distorting elements and failure by an artist to depict elements, for example, hands, feet, human anatomy.  For it is the artworks that remains after all has been said and done. An important and powerful artwork must remain timeless. One that comes to mind is the Guernica painted by Picasso in 1937. This painting is a strong and powerful political statement painted as a immediate reaction to the Nazi's devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during Spanish Civil War. It remains famous and widely acclaimed until today.

  
Guernica, 1937, Picasso



This month l also look forward to the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair taking place at Somerset House in London from 16-20 October 2013, the Frieze London from 17 - 20 October 2013 and the Art For Me in Cape Town from 25 - 27 October 2013.

Links:

1-54.com

artforme.co.za

friezelondon.com