artthrob picks

The Best Event of 2013 - The 2014 Cape Town Art Fair

By M Blackman on 20 January

The Cape Town Art Fair

The Cape Town Art Fair, 2014. Logo

ArtThrob's staff have been asked to reflect on the most interesting event of 2013.  This is the managing editor Matthew Blackman's choice:

The novelist Damon Galgut, in an essay on Cape Town, imagined the city without the mountain. It would be a city whose access to the sea has been cut off by inexpiable town planning, a city that has regimentally knocked down its most interesting architecture and left unfinished bridges in their stead, a city of poverty and crime, with idiosyncratic weather and elites with tastes that Liberace would probably baulk at. In a word, it would be Cape Town as encountered by those of us who live here. Following this line, Galgut’s friend the late Stephen Watson, with an eye on at least some of Cape Town’s population, talked of ‘colonial man’, a rootless, cultureless biped.

It is a sad truth that Cape Town’s theatres are badly attended; its galleries' doors drip irregularly with patrons; and its literature sits unsold in its bookshops, glued spines, brittle with age, ready to crack on first opening. This is not to say that Cape Town is bereft of talent. It has a fine group of actors and playwrights, a group of artists that without doubt sit in the world’s top draw, and its writers - when they are not leaving the place out of frustration - tend to be pretty decent.

Perhaps then what Cape Town needs is events or showcases to prove, if only to ourselves, that cultural fulfillment can start at home and not only on holiday in New York, Paris and London. Yes, there is a jazz festival, a design fair, a book fair, a book festival - but in the visual arts there is an unfathomable paucity.  

Of course, visual arts events have been tried: biennales, triennials, the Brett Kebble Awards and Spier Contemporary have been floated and then sadly sunk. But now we have an art fair, and although it got off to a rather shaky start with several men and women manning the bilge pumps, the fact is that on the 25-27 October 2013 it happened.

Whether it is sustainable is another question, but a fair has some unique strong points where the other events did not:

a)    it is not dependent on public funding or private whim.
b)    it has a set formula and there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
c)    its formula (happening over a weekend) is easily understandable to the Cape Town population as there are several other events like it in town.
d)    The fair also has no highfalutin aims.  It is a commercial venture with a little bit of general interest as attraction and a few educational platforms.

Of course I would not say that the first event that happened in October was the greatest fair I have been to, far from it, but having seen what is on offer in February, it looks like this event may have legs.  And my sincere hope is that the 2014 event will be one of the best events of this year. It could certainly be as good a platform as any for introducing and educating a city about the fact that it has a burgeoning and well-structured art world lying in its midst.

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