Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The 'Other' Art Fair: Turbine Art Fair

David Koloane peruses the Bag Factory's stand pic by Debbie Yazbek

Newtown should have always been home to an art fair. This idea isn’t just rooted in Joburgers’ insistence that their primary identity is linked to the inner city, or the now much-mooted notion that this area is a cultural precinct. But they were given to believe this would be the case when the Joburg Art Fair’s creator, Ross Douglas of Artlogic, waxed lyrical about art fostering a closer connection to the inner city at the opening of a screening of William Kentridge’s work in the city – the event that propelled Ross into the art world. Instead, when the time came, Artlogic opted to stage the Joburg Art fair in the sterile Sandton Convention Centre, located in a suburb without any link to the arts. This has contributed to the fair’s already commercial mainstream slant, though presumably this “safe” setting has worked at attracting a new audience more au fait with mall culture than contemporary art. Predictably, those in the art world haven’t relished the location; the bright lights, the associations with a “convention centre” and its proximity to the mall, somehow “cheapens” art.

Given these attitudes, the inaugural Turbine Art Fair, held last weekend in the über cool titular building in Newtown, should have been embraced with gusto by the art fraternity. The building, after all, epitomises Joburg’s emerging industrial-chic aesthetic that is mushrooming in Maboneng and Braamfontein – both locales for the artistically inclined. Yet, the usual art crowd; artists, art critics and fashionable gallerinas largely stayed away from this event.

Their ambivalence is related to the fact that the accepted reliable purveyors of contemporary art with a capital “C” – such as Goodman and Stevenson – weren’t participating in this new art fair. The majority of the galleries at the Turbine Art Fair – except for Art on Paper, Circa (part of Everard Read) and David Krut – are those rumoured to have been rejected by Artlogic as viable participants of their grand annual art bazaar. A lack of financial clout (the stands are pricey) and profile has been the barrier for some art dealers, for others their products don’t evince an understanding of what contemporary art is, or should aspire to be, despite the slipperiness of its defining characteristics.