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Pinning down Joburg Art Collectors

Over the years gallerists have spoken fondly of the decisive Joburg art collector. They are revered beings who apparently appear at the Joburg Art Fair on opening night and cutting through the maelstrom of art, VIP champagne, and socialites acquire art on the spot. They know what, or whose work they want to buy. Typically it coincides with art they have seen hanging on the walls of their moneyed friends’ houses. This Joburg type of collector, who is not to be confused with the discerning Cape Town one who circles artworks for days weighing aesthetic qualities – is not seen of again for the duration of the art fair.

There are no facts or figures pinpointing the exact number of art collectors are in South Africa, or where they are concentrated. However, given more art auctions take place in Joburg than in Cape Town and three art fairs take place in Joburg – Turbine Art Fair, the renamed Art Joburg and the new Latitudes fair – it is safe to assume everyone believes there are an abundance of collectors in this city.

Supporting this idea further is the fact that the recent ‘coup’ of the Joburg Art Fair, resulting in the ousting of the previous owner of it, Artlogic, was motivated by Cape Town based galleries – Stevenson, Smac, Blank Projects and Whatiftheworld – with the support of their Joburg contemporaries - Goodman, Everard Read and Gallery Momo. Cape Town galleries predominantly rely on sales to international visitors – up to 77%, according to Emma Van der Merwe, from Everard Read Cape Town, and Baylon Sandri, of Smac gallery. Galleries are so keen to engage with Joburg collectors that newcomer Latitudes sold out their booths rapidly – “we were only limited by space,” observes Lucy MacGarry. She is the previous director of the Joburg Art Fair and now heads Latitudes, that will open during the same time in a temporary structure on the Nelson Mandela Square.

As such Joburg has emerged as the hub for local art collectors. A base that everyone is invested growing, though no one is really sure how this done. Art Joburg will embrace this year with a Hugh Masekela jazz event (which turned out to be an exhibition), which Mandla Sibeko, the owner and director, says will work towards reeling in new art buyers.

Everyone wants in on the Joburg art collector, including corporate sponsors, FNB, who sponsor Art Joburg, RMB, Turbine and Latitudes have hooked in numerous sponsors, including a luxury vehicle company who have agreed to wrap some vehicles in art for their event. Art collector equals high-net individual, or so is the thinking.

The reinvention of the Joburg Art Fair into the sleeker, much slimmer Art Joburg (mirroring the Art Basel name) was driven by research that the majority of sales at this annual event were to Joburgers, according to Sibeko. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t think this was surprising given it is held in Joburg, but over the last eleven years of this fair’s existence, it was touted as a pan African event that included galleries from around the continent and was designed to draw international art collectors and curators from the world over.

This Article was first published in The Sunday Times. READ IT HERE


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