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#artmarket: Simphiwe Nzube on the rise?

#artmarket is part of a new series of posts to discuss the value of contemporary art. It recently came to my attention at the FNB Joburg Art Fair that the price of art at the bottom end - the emerging artist segment - has risen considerably. This is not a surprise; the art market is expanding every day and the price of mid-career artists work is being driven up by demand on the international market and art fairs. Gallerists are literally fighting over graduates and talented artists emerging on the continent - they all want their hands on the next best artist who will sell out at Armory or Frieze or the Cape Town Art Fair. Michaelis art students are signed up for solo exhibitions before they have even finished their studies, or are given time to mature. This has all placed a premium on art at this end of the art market.

What does this mean for consumers? Starting and building a collection will be more expensive and riskier... these are unproven names. Artists are unpredictable people. They are also at heart sometimes anti the art market and may not play the game - they may quit art before they are 30 to build an ant farm in the Karoo or decide to build art from ice the melts before buyers get their sticky hands on it. However, they are always looking for approval (they are outsiders to some degree) so they are unlikely to turn their backs on the attention of the public, which is measured through sales.

The rising cost of art produced by emerging artists could also be attributed to gallerists exploiting the fact that South Africans - (and other international art buyers) are a little bit in the dark about contemporary art from the continent or art in general, the value of it, what to pay for it and what to collect.

My objective is to educate art buyers, cultivate new art buyers and give them the tools to buy more confidently, be a more informed about art and how best to build a collection that will accrue value in the future. They can do this by following this series, joining my upcoming art talks or book one-on-one consultations.

In this first post I want to look at the work of Simphiwe Nzube. It is on at Whatiftheworld Gallery, Cape Town as part of their Dear Europa... group exhibition. Nzube is rising fast. He's won a few awards; one that Michaelis (UCT Art School) dish out, the 2015 Simon Gerson Prize, the 2013 Cecil Skotnes Award and last week he picked up the Tollman Award for Visual Arts. Nzube has Standard Bank Young Artist written all over him already. If he picks up that award later on, the value of his art will increase again.

I would also hazard a guess that the sartorial-driven aspect to his art would have attracted the attention of Mark Coetzee, the director of Zietz Mocaa. Of course, Nzube has already shown his work in a museum, at the SA National Gallery in a group show. Not that this carries as much kudos (if any) anymore, but it makes his bio look good.

Most important is the art. It is very reminiscent of a number of artists work - Nicholas Hlobo, Mary Sibande and a host of others working with dress, masquerade - so on the originality front it is a little ho-hum. This does mean his work is readily contextualised - can be canonised quick-sticks. He does drive his own aesthetic - it is identifiable and the pile of clothing depicted in the series rather nicely implies that much identity-swopping has already occurred on the 'scene'. His work is also less concerned with identity (gender or class as is the case with Sibande and Hlobo) and has more to do with a society in disarray, gripped with pain, anger. It speaks of the 'the now'. This marching, soldier-like figure appears to be the lone survivor, or perhaps victor, claiming a moral position at the end of a messy battle.

Now to the price; R30 000 for the triptych of photographic prints dubbed In Search Of (pictured above). This is a lot for photographic works by an unproven artist, even if there are only 5 editions. I would expect to pay this amount for a painting produced by a known, but rising artist. Weirdly, the sculptural work (Untitled) is priced at R18 000 - this is unexpected given it is a one-off. But it is not a strong work - it is a composition, not a statement of any sort really.

Nzube is a confident artist. Watch the interview below... art isn't just about the monetary value we attach to it, but how viewers,society connect and identify with their art and views. The stronger the connection, the more value their work has. Artists should bear this in mind.


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