ArtThrob: You’ve been with the Investec Cape Town Art Fair for three editions as a director, and in other capacities for a couple of years before that. How do you think the fair has grown over that time period?
Laura Vincenti: When I first came to South Africa, the fair was very small and very local. My task was to internationalize the fair, to bring more international galleries, to raise the quality of the fair and to increase the international audiences: collectors, artists, curators and viewers. Now in the seventh edition, I can say that we are on the international calendar. When I go around the world to promote the fair, people know what the Investec Cape Town Art Fair is. We have had a very good response, not just from galleries but from collectors. This year, LA Frieze will be on the same date, so it was bit tricky even if they are not a direct competitor. Many collectors have chosen to come to Cape Town instead of LA. That means a lot for us.
The fair is attracting international audiences, but I’d imagine one of your tasks is to work with galleries in the continent. There are unique challenges working in Africa and its growing art world. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered?
I don’t like to talk about African art, I don’t like the label ‘African’. We don’t say ‘European’ art or ‘American’ art, so why do we to talk about African art? I prefer to say contemporary art from Africa. It’s about art and not about the geographical provenance.
The core of the fair is contemporary art from Africa, not just from South Africa. It is a challenge to attract more galleries from the continent, mostly because of financial constraints. Travelling and shipping is very expensive. But we have new exciting galleries from Africa which means they really want to invest in this market, they really want to be seen at the fair. The way is long still. We have not achieved our goals in terms of participation from Africa, especially from North Africa. If we say we are representing the continent, we have to represent the continent, not just one part of it. Our aim is to have more galleries from North Africa. But I’m happy because we have galleries from, for example, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe, so we have participation from a lot of the sub-Saharan area.
Do you feel that the local market has grown? Is the art fair sustainable locally, or do you need to attract more international collectors?
It’s definitely grown. I’ve found that also taste has changed. Some of the established collectors in Cape Town and Joburg used to collect modern art, and now they’ve shifted towards contemporary art. This is maybe because of the fair, but also because of the trend all over the world for contemporary African art. I found that local collectors are intrigued by having international artists showing in Cape Town. And the international collectors come here to buy contemporary art from Africa. It’s a delicate balance, between local and international artists, between local and international galleries, so we sustain the needs of everybody.
You’ve been running the emerging artists section, ‘Tomorrows/Today’ for four editions now, what is the significance of pushing emerging, young or unseen artists at the fair?
I think it’s super important, which is why we invest a lot in that section. We place it right at the entrance to the fair. As a fair, we have the responsibility to show under-represented artists. That’s why we have a prize for that section, awarded by the Fondazione Fiera Milano. This year it won’t be just a cash prize, but will also include an exhibition at Zeitz MOCAA next year. It gives the winner a lot of visibility.
You’ve also got the Solo section, and this year’s theme is on digital practice. Why does that particular theme feels pertinent now?
It’s been quite a struggle to break the idea that digital art is just videos. We are overwhelmed by video art. We wanted to give a different meaning to the section and focus on how the digital world dialogues with everyday life. It is a challenge especially as we are still a young fair and the theme is not very sellable. But one of our aims is to be cutting edge, so we tried it. We’ve got excellent artists in this section, so I’m sure it will be well received.
We’ve got a responsibility to promote the art scene and the cultural scene. I always say an art fair is not just a commercial event. We want to stress this: we’ve got the cultural platform sections and we give space to platforms that wouldn’t otherwise be visible to the broader public. The added value is huge, because we have a responsibility to the cultural development of the region, to grow cultural consciousness.
If you were to sum up a vision for the future, what would it be? You’ve had some time now to put in the building blocks. What do you hope for the future?
I’m happy that the local galleries have grown alongside us. It means we have worked together well. But my aim would be to be in the top five fairs in the world, not just in terms of numbers. I don’t care about numbers, I care about quality. I always value the feedback from curators, because they travel a lot and they think about quality. I always ask for their opinion. If we attract more international curators, it means the fair is going the right way. It means it has something to say, not just another fair with the usual stuff.
You must be asked so much about development and markets, and you need to focus on that, but ultimately, we’re talking about art as the central part here. What is the value of art for you, personally? What do you like?
For me, art – contemporary art especially – has always been my passion. I come from a family that used to collect art, more traditional ancient and modern art. I grew up well nurtured by art. I’m a small collector in my own way. But I market art, so my approach is always a pragmatic one. I try not to get too involved in the emotions, but then of course emotions come anyway.
Art is also a common language for people, regardless of race, gender or religion. You can go anywhere and speak the same language. It’s not money-related, you can sit in a coffee shop and talk about art. You can share opinions with someone with a totally different background because you have common ground on that level.