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The Joburg Art Fair: fair or foul?

The cover of the catalogue, featuring the work of Lakin Ogunbanwo

A few weeks ago the unthinkable dawned on me; I was looking forward to the Joburg Art Fair.(JAF) It was an uncomfortable but new sensation, which I was tempted to tuck away into that same place where I conceal my obsession for cooking reality TV shows and tattooed biceps. Had I finally bought into this whole art-fair malarkey, or had the art fair model evolved into something a little more palatable?

The source of my immediate excitement was pretty clear; it had been building via a series of emails from JAF that started to make me feel as if the whole event was tailored for me and the organisers had been thoughtfully digesting everything I had written for the last couple of years (as if). Candice Breitz as the featured artist was a big tick. I was OBSESSED with the video work Treatment that showed at the group exhibition, Other People’s Memories (which is probably the best group show I have seen all year) at the Goodman Gallery and while I know the work Him + Her I can’t recall having experienced it first-hand.

What really made my toes curl in delight was the introduction of the gallery solo projects. Stevenson have taken this approach at previous fairs - devoting entire stands to an artist - but to have this expanded on was a good development; the best way for the public to come to grips with an artist’s work is through exposure to a number of works in one setting. The artists selected for these projects also made my little art heart sing; Jared Ginsberg deserves a spot in the limelight – his work always makes me smile. It’s simple, clever and totally unpretentious. It’s art, art. I have been championing Stephen Hobbs’s art for a long time and was pleased to finally see him given room and space to play beyond the very limited spatial and print-medium-bound confines of the David Krut Gallery.

In my opinion Stevenson Gallery were short-sighted in dropping Michael MacGarry from their stable. Yes, perhaps he lost his way with the last solo at their gallery and the last film of his I saw with Rodan Kane Hart playing a colonial washed up on the shores of Africa made me wish I could ‘unsee’ something. But MacGarry is a talented artist; he knows how to produce things – to craft them well – and always has a grasp on fashionable topics and how to come at them from unexpected places. It may not be any coincidence that his wife is the curator of the JAF, but it is time for his “return” to the scene and this platform has become the space where careers can be (re)forged. Alet and Wilhelm from Gallery AOP are so psyched about Jonah Sack’s new work that they run out of breath when they talk about his work, so a stand dedicated to this artist is bound to be a highlight in a quiet sort of way, as is the AOP way. Cyrus Kabiru – need I say anything… this poor Kenyan artist has reluctantly become the posterchild for Afrofuturism. His work has been totally overexposed and over-consumed. I am not sure I can look at it anymore, but this could be a chance for him to steer his practice either into the eye of that fashion/art storm or around it. Either way I am interested to see in which direction he turns.