Art sales in Cape Town during the fair


Image by Nina Lieska

To say that Cape Town was in the grip of an art frenzy last weekend was an understatement. The opening of the inaugural Stellenbosch Triennale was quickly followed by the opening of the Investec Cape Town art fair. There were over 100 stands to peruse at that annual event and then gallery exhibitions to see in Woodstock, at the Norval, the Michael Armitage, the new Abdoulaye Konate at Zeitz Mocaa and a curated show, Matereality (sic), at the Iziko SA National Art Gallery. Adding to this art commerce bonanza were two auctions – the Aspire/Piasa Historical, Modern and Contemporary African sale on the Friday afternoon and the Strauss & Co Contemporary Art sale on the Saturday evening. All of this activity pitted the primary and secondary markets against each other, testing the buying power in this city and allowing for their influence on each other to be cleanly observed.


Given the tough economic conditions in South Africa – high unemployment, under 1% growth rate, huge government debt, unreliable electricity supply and a slump in the property market - local gallerists and auctioneers were feeling slightly apprehensive about whether art would find buyers.



As anticipated a number of different pictures emerged with different collector patterns in the primary and secondary markets, which reveal the current state of South Africa's art market but also the role the Investec Cape Town Art Fair has played in advancing it. Our upcoming report – Cape Town Art Market 2020 – will reveal the patterns we detected via quantitative and qualitative methods. To request a preview copy click here.


Visitor numbers at the fair were up – there were 22 000 visitors, according to Fiera Milano, the organisers. Over 2800 collectors jet-setted into Cape Town for it, said Frank Kilbourne, from Strauss & Co. You could feel the swell in numbers, there was never really a lull, the crowds kept filtering into the Cape Town International Conference Centre. The presence of so many international galleries, seemed to encourage more international visitors. Inclement weather on the Sunday appeared to induce locals to swap a nature walk for a stroll through the fair. So, in essence, there was no shortage of eyes... but were they browsing or buying?


South African dealers reported very healthy sales - Goodman Gallery said they sold out 50% of their offerings on the VIP opening of the art fair. However, as always at fairs, gallery sales were uneven. Some galleries from other parts of Africa and elsewhere did not do well; they claimed that European collectors either wanted South African art or art from galleries in Europe that they are already familiar with.


It was a no frills art fair with its canteen quality food and coffee and there were no exciting immersive or special art projects pushing the boundaries or entreating artists or collectors to think beyond possibilities for domestic wall space. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the museums and private art foundations in the city were providing this. So where once South African art fairs had to try and fill the gaps that museums and biennales had left unaddressed, now they can honestly claim their intended function; or should organisers continue to deliver on more than a trade fair?


Here are some of the works (a more comprehensive list will be included in our upcoming report) that were almost instantly snapped up before the masses poured in by the Saturday.