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The Young & Restless: Turbine Art Fair

Above: Lindi Lombard's massive painting was one of the highlights of TAF

The look of distress on the face of a young artist at an art fair, when they have yet to make a sale is somewhat like the expression you might see on the last kid left outside the school gates as darkness encroaches. It is best not to watch the transactions or lack thereof, I tell Audrey Anderson, a young artist milling around the Fresh Produce stand, one of the main special projects at the Turbine Art Fair engineered to promote young (or undiscovered) artists.

It is a day into the Turbine Art Fair and there are no red dots below the three works she has on show at the Fresh Produce stand.

“It feels so competitive,” says Anderson, her eyes darting around the cavernous basement of the Turbine Hall, where all the stands of the smaller galleries or special projects are located. I want to make her feel better, but I can’t lie. The venue is packed to the rafters with art that is desirable and affordable – my wishlist keeps growing.

There is a cap on the price tags – nothing is over R40 000, so the main market is for editioned prints by known artists from Walter Battiss to Sam Nthlengethwa, whose Interiors series is available at two stands, Anton Kannemeyer, to a new generation of artists such as Mary Wafer, Stephen Hobbs, Bridget Baker, Sanelle Aggenbach, Brett Murray, Georgina Gratix, and Christian Nerf, who are fast becoming collectable names in the game. Ayanda Mabulu has a slightly contentious collage work (his paintings are far too dear for this fair) questioning the ANC’s “god” – Mandela - which is all the more subversive given it is the weekend where South Africans are engaging in charity work in the late leader’s name. Generally, the artists are white, the galleries are mostly white owned. If you want to make an argument for the lack of transformation in South Africa’s cultural sector, there is fuel here that could be ignited.

Anderson is offering original once off painting-cum-collage-illustrations on wood, exploiting the grain, so the works are more valuable than prints, but she is a completely unproven and unknown name and only one work is sort of sexy – she has someway to go. Not that that means anything at this fair. Aside from all the artists who spend the first night buying up all the tiny Colin Richard prints at the Out of the Cube stand, are there any serious collectors or curators, local or international looking for the next big thing here? If any artist is going to earn that label soon, my bets would be on Bevan de Wet – he has work in a variety of stands and the work is getting more and more likeable. His architectural-looking-cum-Julie-Mehretu print at the Artist Proof Studio stand best shows this potential. He knows what he is doing and his execution is tight. Did anyone notice?

The buyers who flock to the Turbine Art Fair (TAF) are a different set to those that frequent galleries and the Joburg Art Fair, according to one gallerist, who claims that Glynnis Hyslop, the director of TAF, has access to a moneyed group outside of those scenes. They appeared to be a northern suburb’s crowd, slowly coming to grips with contemporary art, which is increasingly becoming hard to avoid if you want to attend social events – such as art fair openings, the Winter Sculpture Fair and such.

On the opening night people kept stopping in front of works at the Kalashnikov Gallery stand declaring in surprise they were indeed “art”, according to Matthew Dean, the co-owner of the gallery heralding a new generation of artists that will slip through the Stevenson/Goodman nets. It probably is a good thing that young artists don't go straight from university into a big established institution; they should play a little and fail without pressure. Is TAF the right platform for this to occur given it is a sales-driven event?

As in previous years this is what TAF is - a place to find a lot of rudimentary stabs at making art and an art world independent of the Stevenson/Goodman universe – the two main galleries that dominate our scene, dictating who is in and out. It's the art entry market, where some terrible entry level art is made and sold - the buyers are not that discerning yet. Yet. That will come and I when it does I will enter a church and take that communion and drink that cheap red and thank the Lord personally.

It is good that another art universe (read fair, market) has opened up. And TAF looks better every year – the layout, stand orientation and setting of TAF, make it an increasingly enjoyable annual event. All they need now, are a few art experts on board to curate it – The Emerging Painters platform was not well hung - the large canvases could not be admired from afar. The performance art programme was really weak - why do art fair organisers and galleries insist on introducing this genre into these settings without knowing how to accomodate it is BEYOND frustrating. I can't even begin to think about the Joburg Art Fair's stab in this direction.

The setting for TAF is edgy and the slant towards presenting art of a younger generation is a good selling point, which I pointed out in my first critique of the TAF at its inception and Hyslop/The Forum has adpoted it well. However, edginess escapes this fair. Pleasant is the adjective that comes to mind. And where are the showstoppers? You need a showstopper art work that everyone will Instagram. They should have Ed Young on speed-dial. I keep saying it - he is the only artist in our midst who knows how to play THE GAME. And as for the risk – it sits on the shoulders of the young artists, like Anderson, who remain fixed on the edges, waiting to see if someone thinks their art is worth buying.

Art Fair Trends:

I have always wanted to write one of these for the art world - too much fun:

Crude-Baroque political art

These baroque-type figurative oil paintings depict our political leaders in the manner of religious narratives. Ayanda Mabulu favoured this type of painting but growing dissatisfaction with the ruling party has seen this mode being adopted by others such as Azael Langa in Cry our Beautiful country at the Ifa Lethu stand


Abstract, child-like or intuitive map-making is popular. The Art on Paper stand offered a really good array of examples of this kind of art by Marcus Neustetter, Chloe Reid and John Phalane. Zolile Phatsane’s series at Art Source also stood out.

The smudged portrait:

These are works where the sitter’s face has been distorted. It could be thought of as the anti-portrait portrait painting. Jason Brokhorst’s The Heads, an oil painting where only the border of a face is detectable, at the Kalishnikov stand is an ideal example of this type of painting.

Comic Strip Anton Kannemeyer vibe

Bitterkomix co-creator Anton Kannemeyer has inspired a generation of artists who have adopted his highly stylised pop comic-strip vocabulary. Peter Mammes, who showed works at the Dead Bunny Society is probably his most promising competitor.

Quirky naïve cynicism

Georgina Gratix is perhaps the most influential creator of work of this ilk. Prints such as Tinder Date (at Warren Editions), speak of this new generation of wanna-be idealists perceiving the world via the tainted lens of the Generation X’ers before them.


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