Earlier this year, FNB JoburgArtFair announced Amy Ellenbogen as their new Curator for the Galleries and VIP sections. A familiar face on the Cape Town scene, Amy co-founded contemporary art gallery SMITH in 2014. After three years as director and curator, she moved on to focus on independent curatorial opportunities, most recently ‘Neo-Fuzz’ at AKAA, Paris.
Amy was kind enough to sit down with ArtThrob to offer us the inside scoop on her curatorial vision for this year’s fair.
ArtThrob: First of all, congratulations on the new job! As the new curator, how do you go about putting a fresh spin on an institution as established as FNB JoburgArtFair?
Amy Ellenbogen: Thank you. I am amongst great company and in awe of my predecessors. It’s a privilege to be working on the oldest and largest Fair on the continent. Being part of the bigger conversations has been a thrill and a challenge.
AT: What has it been like working on a project of this scale? Was it a new experience for you or business as usual for you?
AE: Certainly not business as usual. The scale of the Fair is huge and working under dynamic directors in both Mandla Sibeko and Cobi Labuscagne has meant that I have learned a lot, and fast. I am a team player so I gain great energy from my colleagues and I am lucky to be surrounded by a talented and spirited team.
AT: Last year was the Fair’s 10th anniversary. How do you feel that this year’s installment of FNB JoburgArtFair sets the stage for the next 10 years of the Fair?
AE: For me, this year is about firmly solidifying the purpose and necessity of a Fair like this happening here in South Africa, and importantly in Johannesburg. The FNB JoburgArtFair has launched careers and allowed for established artists to be seen alongside emerging talent. Every year the art world comes together for a weekend of critical mass. What I have found so interesting is the Fair acts as an immediate cross section of the contemporary African art scene over one weekend.
AT: This Fair has exhibitors from 9 different African countries. What are the challenges working trans- continentally?
AE: Personally I feel like my job is easy in relation to the challenges faced by African galleries. Logistically it is very hard for them – managaing shipping, customs, travel arrangements (both financially and logistically). The FNB JoburgArtFair has actively pursued diversity in African representation, this mandate I am very proud to be a part of. With this in mind we have helped as much as we can, whether it be offering advice or through our partnerships.
AT: Do you foresee this offering from the continent expanding in the future?
AE: I hope this is the case. I am positive as our collectors base grows, so too will their thirst for a broader African offering. Fairs are an excellent platform for this.
AT: The Fair announced a partnership with SP-Arte in Brazil earlier this year. Can we expect more engagement with the Global South?
AE: Absolutely. The fair will be working to make this collaboration more tangible to the public. Not only are we facilitating the exchange of South African galleries to Brazil, but bringing Brazilian work here allows for a deeper and more meaningful interactions and collaborations with artists and their work. This will be evident in curated programmes within galleries as well as the work being made by individual artists.
AT: Are there any main themes or narratives which have emerged from your curatorial approach? How have these influenced your choices of solo projects and the arrangement of the space?
AE: I have played it safe in relation to trying to reinvent the structure of the fair. The contemporary gallery presence is reflective of the current market and the solo presentations are a bigger cross- section of this. We have been honoured with a wonderful large presentation by the Featured Artist, Billie Zangewa, and a large-scale Sue Williamson installation. For my Curators’ Feature I have chosen to lightly touch on Zimbabwean artists and works.
AT: How do you balance the commercial needs of the fair with a more cultural role?
AE: In a dream world we would simply curate with no worries of sales. As I write that I feel conflicted, I have always enjoyed selling work. Unashamedly this comes from my gallerist days at SMITH and I feel great satisfaction out of helping collectors grow their collections and patronage of artists.
AT: Can you tell us a bit more about the #FNBJAF20 campaign? It sounds like an exciting new initiative.
AE: This is superb initiative, illustrating the FNB JoburgArtFair’s commitment to emerging talent. Our exhibitors bring such a range of work and we wanted to be able to highlight some of the up and coming artists in a new manner that could live on beyond the Fair. What better way than use social media? By either searching the hashtag (#FNBJAF20) across Instagram, Facebook or Twitter or navigating to our #FNBJAF20 tab on our website, one is immediately presented with the nominated artists and can peruse the works. We’ve had great response with our audience, artists and galleries voting on the campaign – either by posting the artist with the #FNBJAF20 hashtag or going through the website and submitting a vote.
AT: There haven’t been too many announcements regarding talks and supplementary projects just yet. Do you have any exclusive scoops for us?
AE: The talks programme is being curated by Kabelo Malatsie so will be certainly very critically engaging and enriching. She has curated the programme taking into consideration both international and local voices and the different ‘forms’ a conversation may happen – you can expect panels, one on one conversations, live music, a film screening and Q&As. Not to be missed, Saturday September 8th on the Theater at Nelson Mandela Square!
FNB JoburgArtFair takes place at the Sandton Convention Centre:
Exhibition Hall 1, 161 Maude Street, Sandton
Dates: 7 – 9 September 2018
Friday 8 September: 11am – 8pm
Saturday 9 September: 11am – 7pm
Sunday 10 September: 11am – 5pm
For more information, please visit: www.fnbjoburgartfair.co.za