Investec Cape Town Art Fair
18.02 - 20.02.2022
February 11, 2022
It is Friday night. I am at A4 Arts Foundation for the opening of Sean O’Toole’s research exhibition ‘Photo Book! Photo-Book! Photobook!’ (In my head, this title is to be read as if a chant at a sports match, complete with pumping fists. Photo Book! Photo-book! Photobook!) I am struck by these books. Out of print, forgotten, less precious than the artworks they contain, they didn’t make their authors any money. They are unholy, made holy, suddenly, by the exhibition space. You can see it in the hundred-some-odd people who have gathered here. Dizzied by the crowd, I haplessly gravitate towards free wine and chats in the smoking section. It feels like the art fair has already started. With only five days to go, the art workers are already overstressed, underslept, and drunker than they ought to be. I spend an inordinate amount of time talking to Mitchell Messina about his brand new dishwasher and to Khanya Mashabela and Sinazo Chiya about star signs. The highlight of the evening is definitely Sean’s face when he sees the cake they’ve bought for him – complete with Photo Book! Photo-Book! Photobook! written in frosting. “I have a sweet tooth,” he says. A few hours later, I’m at home, tipsy, stuffing my face with the slice he gave me, thinking about how many strange and wonderful people have entered my life because of art. Art, an unholy industry in which I still manage to find some holiness.
February 12, 2022
It is Saturday morning. Maybe it’s the painkillers that I took for my hangover that softened me, but Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi’s paintings at Stevenson are making me cry. The communions they depict – girls talking, hugging, doing each other’s hair – are so casual, and yet so heartfully rendered. I feel as if I am being held. The sensation is akin to being held as a child, when colours and shapes were simple, when I navigated the world through touch, not thought; when the world was full of hearts, not faces. Feeling even softer, I make my way across the street to blank projects, where Igshaan Adams is presenting intricately woven tapestries of rope, sea shells, twine, beads, stones, bones, glass, chains and fabric. Quickly, I’m crying again. If Thenjiwe’s paintings reminded me what it was like to be a child, these works teach me what it is like to grow up. To endure various stages of crystallisation and unravelling. To become cavernous, more ornate with time. These works give pause to accept one’s own dizzying complexity. It is a moment of calm before the art fair week starts and I lose track of who I am.
February 13, 2022
I spend Sunday on the couch drinking mug after mug of honeyed tea, like a singer preparing for a big performance.
February 14, 2022
It is Valentine’s Day. My husband (Dom) is shelving a trio of urns at Gallery De Move On, the third in a series of pop-up shows started by Mike Tymbios and curated by Paul Wallington and Nathalie Viruly. Dom is the first to install. Torn pieces of paper, stuck to the walls with masking tape, represent where the other artworks will be. Paul is still deciding which work he’s going to contribute – an ugly painting of a dog dancing with an apple balanced on its head, or an even uglier painting of zombified white people on a family road trip, paint splattered like insects’ blood on the hood of their Range Rover. We discuss which painting is more ‘art fair.’ I say that the dog is more performative, and what is the art fair if not a theatre? Paul likes the Range Rover because it is the uglier one, and ugliness might be an antidote to the art fair’s tastes. I wonder, for all these pop-up satellite shows surrounding the fair, for whom are they performing?
February 15, 2022
It is Tuesday. I am on Buitenkant Street, at a little exhibition curated by Guy Simpson and Hanna Noor Mohammed. It is called ‘uninvested.’ Hanna is presenting some exquisitely bouncy abstracts on paper. Guy is showing his first ever painting. The way he described it to me last week, I thought it was going to be a disaster, but Guy has actually pulled it off. It’s marvellous. Titled Paintings at home, it depicts an interior. Tiny little forgeries hang on the walls – Monet, Pollock, Hokusai. Details animate the scene – a plug point, a banana peel, a plant shedding leaves. The elegance of Guy and Hanna’s works are juxtaposed by the ridiculousness of everything else on display. Mitchell’s dozen-or-so works include: a headlamp wrapped around a watermelon, holes in the wall that are poly-filled with cream cheese, and a cap filled with water and coins in imitation of a wishing well. The exhibition is busy, so people keep tripping into it and getting their shoes wet. Christian Kölbl, an artist visiting from Berlin, has the most popular work in the show. It is a few dozen cans of Heineken, carefully stacked between two sheets of glass. When the bucket of Black Label dumpies runs out, folks do not hesitate to help themselves. By the end of the night, when it’s time to migrate to the Kimberley Hotel, all that’s left is the glass and a few crushed cans. It occurs to me that this work perfectly embodies the essence of the art fair: art as a means to party.
February 16, 2022
It is Wednesday. Dom and I arrive at the CTICC at midday on the dot, the hour at which we are allowed to begin installing. But there’s a problem: the walls of our booth have holes in them; they need to be pollyfilled, sanded down, and repainted. We spend five painstaking hours literally watching paint dry. But when Mia Louw tells me that they lent the walls to the doctors and nurses who ran a hospital and then a vaccination centre out of the CTICC, I resolve not to complain. These white walls are expensive for four days each year – some galleries pay nearly R400,000 for 32 square metres – because they are the focal point of wealthy eyes. But between this year and last, these white walls were free to serve a more important function – as witnesses to death, malaise, disability, and our desperate attempts at healing. They are more fragile because of it; we are more fragile because of it.
February 17, 2022
It is Thursday. I stand for twelve hours in the ArtThrob booth at the fair, accompanied by two extraordinary assistants: Lily van Rensburg and Matthew van der Walt. Lily is a recent graduate of the Curatorship course at Michaelis; she is good at bullshitting people into buying the artwork we have on offer. Matthew is an artist and Brett Seiler’s muse; gay European collector couples keep coming up to him to moon over his partner, and he sells a lot of work that way. I hope I don’t sound greedy if I say I am relieved to be making money. As the numbers tick up and up, I think about how many months I will be able to pay my writers. One, four, six. I love my job because of them, the writers. So clever, so talented. I get so energised reading their writing. I know it will become more and more precious with time. This is the part of the job I struggle with – pandering, aggrandizing, counting checks. By 9pm, my knees are wobbly and my face hurts from smiling. But my day is not over. I’ve had the glorious idea to throw an after party at my house. I’ve printed one hundred invitations. Already I know more than one hundred people will arrive. What I don’t know is that Dom and I (plus friends Chris and Shanny) will be spinning behind the bar for the next four hours while Sean and Matthew Partridge deejay in the next room.
Our flat is packed wall to wall with people. The air is thick with sweat and smoke. The party quickly spills into the stairwell and even my neighbour’s apartment upstairs. By midnight, the crowd’s drunk all the booze I ordered. When I announce that there’s only red wine left, the crowd grumbles but drinks it anyway. At twelve thirty, it’s time for me to take over on the decks and, at last, I get a chance to look around at the motley crew assembled. Everybody’s in my house, from gallery directors and blue chip collectors to art students and drag queens. I might be proud if I wasn’t so tired. Luckily Yonela Makoba usurps the deejay booth – I’m not playing enough amapiano, she says – and I get to sit down for the first time since this morning. I sit down and watch Bonolo Kavula bang her fist against the walls of my apartment because she loves the music so much, pan to a girl who is crying because someone has stolen her phone. I can’t decide if this moment in my life is beautiful or ugly. If ‘art’ is the reason why there are two hundred people in my apartment, does art help us treat each other with grace, or does it turn a blind eye to our transgressions? I am reminded of a line from Ashraf Jamal’s new book: “Art is not a vehicle for good, but its stammer.” Here we are – drunk, dancing, stammering.
February 18, 2022
It is Friday. Dom and I spend eight hours ridding our apartment of cigarette butts, broken glass and vomit after last night’s reverie. By the time we finish, it’s time for another party. We head to WHATIFTHEWORLD for the opening of a group show, curated by Heinrich Groenewald and Shona van de Merwe of Reservoir. Among the delicate objects on display are a bouquet of glass ornaments by Stephané Conradie, a feather-thin screen print of a swimmer by Strauss Louw, and a giant plaster of paris teardrop by Dominique Edwards. My favourite piece in the show is Hopes and Fears by Dale Lawrence. It is a sheet of paper upon which various prophecies have been recorded. In the future there will be no café culture. In the future there will be no border posts. In the future there will be no disappointments. Reading these lines, the optimist in me hopes, while the cynic in me despairs. A line from Paul Schrader’s First Reformed springs to mind: “Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind, simultaneously: hope and despair.” The page is wrapped many layers over with packaging tape, as if it really was a parcel from the future.
Downstairs, at Space By, I watch a video installation screening by Ayana V. Jackson, paid for by the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. It depicts the artist moving slowly, ghost-like, through water. The subtext is obvious: water as the vehicle for the colonial project, water as an unmarked grave. “Water,” as Thuli Gamedze writes, “stores both ancient memory and the possibility of its own mutation in the infinite futures.” If the water, here, carries wisdom from the future and the past, the message is one truth simultaneously: hope and despair.
I see Thuli later at the Smac party, where there is no water. There is only punch, extra-sweet, and an exhibition by Mary Sibande I can’t see because I haven’t got a sticker that identifies me as a VIP. I dance and look around. The crowd tonight is very much the same as the last’s – an odd combination of collectors and kids – only this time, the hierarchy is strict. Important people upstairs, the rest on the ground. We make the most of it by dancing remorselessly. (Hope.) To leave the party, security has to let me through a gap between two gates, like cages. On the other side, people are barred from coming into the party. I’m sure it’s just a matter of capacity control, but the echo of the border post is not lost on me. I am saddened by how much the art industry has internalised systems of hierarchy and exclusion, to the point where even something fun – like a party – makes visible who is and is not included. (Despair.)
In the car ride home, I pray a silent prayer for more fluidity.
February 19, 2022
It is Saturday. It’s busy at the fair. Visitors love our two new prints by Ed Young, especially the one that says, “It’s all shits and giggles until someone giggles and shits.” Each time someone laughs behind their mask, I am reminded that this is a fair, not a microcosm of the greater politics of the art historical project, and I shouldn’t always take things too seriously. With that in mind, I wander around the booths, waiting for something to catch my eye. I love Colijn Strydom’s Bacchae of Buitenkant, a storyboard for a decidedly queer production of Euripides’ play (translated by Anne Carson) in hues of azure and white. I love Thebe Phetogo’s figures, emerging skinless from green screens, Frankenstein-ish bodies in the midst of their creation. I love Turiya Magadlela’s stretched nylons over canvas, evocative of my own erotic memories where beauty collided with pain. I love Dada Khanyisa’s sculpted portraits. They remind me of shadow boxes, but in reverse – their faces approach me, their eyes lowered, simultaneously teasing and pulling away. I love Simphiwe Ndzube’s gap-toothed witches (because I too am a gap-toothed witch). I love Jared Ginsburg’s sensitive painting, a smudgey love letter that says, “This is all I have for you…” I love the painting in which Brett Seiler is carrying Matthew around like a koala cub, both of them naked. I love Guy’s drawings of spoils from art fairs past, Paul’s painting of a ghostly street corner, Daniel Malan’s gif-paintings of water sprinklers. I love Xhanti Zwelendaba’s tapestry in the style of a family portrait, its details pixelated, as if a false memory.
Overwhelmed by this barrage of images and the love I did not expect to feel for them, I do not make it to tonight’s vogue ball in Paarden Island. Later, I get mixed reviews. Some say it was chaotic, messy. Others report the best party they’ve been to in years. Well, it’s a fair after all, and a fair is judged by tickets won and fun had. Me, I’ll content myself with images, which are like those carnival lights – magic in their own right.
February 20, 2022
It is Sunday morning. I am sitting on a stool in front of a small crowd at Norval Foundation, asking Ashraf Jamal questions about his new book, Strange Cargo, alongside his editor, Sven Christian. I’m not entirely sure why Ashraf chose me for this task, but I deeply enjoy watching him go off about how much he adores Nietzsche, American transcendentalists and all things that have to do with the void. He’s passionate, and I love passion. It’s our only resistance to a culture which increasingly strives to numb (rather than complicate) our senses. Ashraf pulls the sleeve of his shirt up to reveal his hairs standing on end as he talks about Rowan Smith’s Aloe Africana. Rowan, in the audience, nods humbly, but in his eyes I see him beam.
Afterwards, Dom and I pack our beach chairs and umbrella and head to Exhibition Match, a soccer game organised by Phokeng Setai and Alex Richards. Quickly, I decide that the netted court in which they play is my favourite booth in the fair. It’s got it all. The drama: a twisted ankle in the first ten minutes of the game. The comedy: players who are bringing skill and seriousness versus those who are amateurs, some of them visibly hungover. The dramedy: a gallery director getting knocked flat on his back by one of his former employees. I love seeing Penny Siopis and Sue Williamson on the sidelines in their sunhats. I love that the teams break at halftime to eat orange slices, like little kids. Most of all, I love the camaraderie. Yes, on Monday morning we will return to our respective positions, rehash the same old power dynamics. But today, in the sun, we are a little community. Our little art world at the end of the world. If we dare to show each other tenderness, I am hopeful that we will survive.