It's time to get excited about local art

2015-03-15 09:30

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Stylist Bee Diamondhead says yes to art (and free kak wine) PHOTOS: Malibongwe Tyilo

When it comes to the popular creative disciplines of fashion, art, design, dance and drama, the visual arts have the reputation of often being the least accessible. Understandably so. The typical gallery scene, the white cube, can be an intimidating space.

“Will I get it?”

“What will I say about it?”

“Will I get caught out for being a poser?”

The irony of it all is that exhibition openings at local galleries are generally open to all, with no doorman to keep people out, no guest list, no pressure to buy and the wine is free. Kak wine, yes, but hey, dop is dop. One would think galleries would be packed to capacity.

That said, over the past decade the local art scene has seen rapid growth in popularity and collectability. The FNB Johannesburg Art Fair was founded in 2008, just a few years before the Cape Town Art Fair in 2013. Visiting either one of these, one could be forgiven for thinking the institutions have been around for much longer. The two cities had just a handful of meaningful galleries at the turn of the century. Those numbers have multiplied and continue to grow, as have those of potential collectors, who are scouring fairs for shrewd investments.

Artist Maurice Mbikayi competes with the wall displays.

With the launch of That Art Fair this past February, a fringe platform that seeks to attract the work of African artists working outside the now-established art-fair model, both cities get additional events to attract collectors and entice younger audiences.

Our country has numerous well-known young art stars, who delve into nontraditional art forms that have attracted collectors, both local and international. Standard Bank Young Artist award winners Mary Sibande, Nandipha Mntambo, Nicholas Hlobo, Athi-Patra Ruga and many more regularly feature in international magazines, blogs and newspapers. The image of the artistic career as one of financial struggle and torment is slowly being eroded.

At the end of February, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which is set to open in 2017 in a massive building designed by international starchitect Thomas Heatherwick in Cape Town, hosted its first annual gala.

The dinner’s purpose, with tickets at R5?000 a pop, was to honour its donors, raise more funds to make the museum accessible and set up a costume institute to commemorate the works of some of our most popular designers.

Celebrated choreographer Nelisiwe Xaba is showing in galleries, not on stages

All of these facts speak of a burgeoning art audience. There’s clearly excitement and faith in South African art. Admittedly, it’s an industry skewed in favour of the privileged and educated. Throughout the country, collectors are still predominantly white. And though there is a lot of buzz in Joburg and Cape Town, it’s just a hum in other cities.

There is clearly a large amount of work still to be done, but there has never been a better time to get excited about local art, even if you aren’t yet ready to buy, or just want to visit that opening for a free drink on a Thursday night.

If you are slightly intimidated by the gallery, just remember, everyone is drinking the same cheap wine.

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