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Into the Depths of Shallowness: FNB Joburg Art Fair 2015 report

Kyle Morland's sculpture at Blank Projects

If you found the mass of art at the FNB Joburg Art Fair difficult to navigate Artsy (the online art trading portal) found a way to break it down into the following easily consumable themes: Narrative, Photo portraiture, Figurative, Engaged with traditional African art, Pattern, and my all time favourite category: Scenes of Everyday Life aka Africa’s shitty-shanty life. I think I may have made a few additions; Triangle Art (the cult of the hipster triangle has found a place in contemporary art wouldn’t you know) and er, abstract art or is that what they term “pattern”, which makes it sound helluva like design objects rather than art – abstraction has a much weightier history than “pattern” art – not sure I have even heard of ‘pattern’ art until now. What of a category you could call naïve figurative art that is too-cool-for-school expressive painting? And what about Fabric art – where the canvas is fabric… thinking here of Turiya Magadlela’s stocking canvases, Hank Willis Thomas’s vintage prison uniforms and Igshaan Adams’s textile interplay. Norman Catherine was making a case for his own category you could call: “tapscicle” or where plumbing and sexual organs intersect – it’s an oldy, but clearly a goody – who didn’t photograph his large shiny taps with low hanging balls? Um, no one, even if we all deleted them when we got home.

Perhaps Artsy are doing what critics, art historians and theorists have done for years; categorise the shit out of art. It is just a much more brutal mode, unsupported by any form of analysis and further entrenches the hyper-commodification of it, even beyond the art fair. Who thought it could get worse? Will artists eventually create art to fit these obtuse categories? Or worse, will there be room for artists to create ‘art, art,’ and can ‘art, art’ even be made anymore and would anyone care? Sigh.

Art fairs always bring-on these dreadful art-existential questions yet the organisers don’t as per art world convention provide free wine to dull the blows they deal. Artlogic could learn a thing or two from Fashion Week organisers; don’t ever send the press into a show without some cheap fizz. Artlogic don’t know how to treat the press (they need to read that manual I call: A friend in the press is better than an enemy in the press) but that is material for another story that is far too boring to tell.

I suppose the works that ultimately turn me on at an art fair are the ones that don’t fit any neat categories; not only Artsy’s, which is probably pretty easy to do, but those other fashionable ones. I love those quirky pieces that stand out from the morass and make me smile (inside). Like Barend De Wet’s DIY flat-box sculptures at the Smac Gallery stand or Johann Van de Schiff’s wooden security cameras which were discreetly placed in a corner of Art on Paper’s stand. MJ Turpin’s “We are All Slaves” from his “you’re so fukkin material