Maverick Life

Maverick Life

Art Week: The art of appealing to every taste

Art Week: The art of appealing to every taste

In a city with a whole range of cultural festivals and events scheduled over the next month and a half in Johannesburg, J. BROOKS SPECTOR previews the upcoming Art Week.

The arts can be big business. Even without those bizarre prices paid for the schlock art at a certain political party’s fundraising auction last year, everyone who even occasionally follows the news about art is aware of astonishing prices paid for old masterworks when they come on the market, as well as the newest works by the flavours of the year.

But the business of art is much more than those astonishing seven- or even eight-figure prices – in dollars – paid for some especially sought-after works of art from the masters. The business end of the arts can make an impressive contribution to a city – or even a nation’s economic wellbeing. In a place like Grahamstown, besides education (Rhodes University and a clutch of private schools), since its inception some forty years ago, the city’s yearly national arts festival has become one of the mainstays of the city – and even the entire province’s economy. And then consider the nation of Austria. The estimates are that around 15% of the nation’s entire GDP derives from arts and cultural tourism.

-¬ Akona Kenqu.from the series Society, courtesy of Market Photo Workshop

Akona Kenqu, from the series Society, courtesy of Market Photo Workshop

And increasingly, clever arts entrepreneurs in South Africa are getting on board with much the same idea. In cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town – as well as numerous smaller towns and cities across the country – the idea that an arts festival can bring in much-needed revenue for a town – as well as to the creative community – is becoming increasingly popular. So much so, that, now, there is increasing cross-fertilisation to build events that play off one-another in the same city in an effort to give a sense of the city being a home for a never-ending cultural playground available to residents and visitors alike.

Art Week is a particularly interesting effort being launched this year in Johannesburg. Picking up on the idea that getting engaged with a city’s art world is more than just visiting an already-favoured gallery or two, or a swing through the city’s annual art fair; the Visual Arts Network South Africa (VANSA) in Johannesburg has identified a week’s worth of arts journeys that can be enjoyed throughout this big sprawling city. VANSA has put the project together in association with the Contemporary Arts Development Trust, Artlogic (the folks behind the rather high-end, internationally oriented Johannesburg Art Fair), along with some help from the Gauteng Tourism Authority.

-¬Bronwyn Lace, Phototaxis

Bronwyn Lace, Phototaxis

Art Week coincides with that big Johannesburg Art Fair, but it comes in just ahead of the city’s annual multidisciplinary Arts Alive festival, the Joy of Jazz festival, as well as Dance Umbrella, among others. The latter is a showcase of the country’s range of challenging contemporary dance works by new and established choreographers.

For South Africa, Art Week was first instituted in Cape Town a few years ago, based on successful models that were being arranged in various foreign cities. In Cape Town, visitors walked or rode by themselves to the participating galleries; but, here in Johannesburg, by arranging for a shuttle bus that will follow a specific route each night, the organisers have set things up so participants can see dozens of galleries, studios, and private collections – the list contains some forty venues for all five nights. Even those knowledgeable about the city’s artistic life are likely to visit a few galleries and studios new to them by following the routes throughout the week. Along the various routes, many restaurants and pubs have agreed to stay open for these evenings as well. Like many gallery professionals, Gallery MOMO manager Karen Brusch explained that her spot “is excited that Art Week has finally come to our city! Joburg needs a visual arts-based activation and there is no better time than during the Joburg Art Fair. The more collaborative initiatives generated in the arts, the better for everyone”.

As far as the specifics of the schedule go, on 19 August, the shuttle takes visitors through Soweto’s own arts community; on the 20th, it will go along Rosebank’s thriving arts strip along Jan Smuts Avenue; on the 22nd it will be the turn of Alexandra; the 23rd the shuttle goes to Maboneng/Arts on Main on the eastern side of the city; and then, on the 24th, the final night, the programme includes the growing art scene in Braamfontein – as well as workshops and studios in and around Newtown. The Art Week schedule takes a day off on 21 August so as not to conflict with the opening of the Johannesburg Art Fair.

The shuttle bus will operate on a jump-on, jump-off, re-board system so visitors can take their time at any place where the work or the artists really strikes their fancy – and the shuttles start at convenient, logical spots where plenty of secure parking will be available. For example, the Alex-bound shuttle begins and ends at the Sandton Convention Centre, while the Soweto shuttle’s homeport will be the parking lot in front of the Wits University Planetarium. There are lists of participating galleries, maps and schedules available online at, as well as paper copies in many galleries, restaurants, shops and theatres throughout the city.

-¬David Krut Projects

David Krut Projects

The result becomes something like a game park’s safari bus that gives a chance to browse galleries and studios in a “Come and see the artists in their natural habitat” kind of way – but without having to figure out where the heck the galleries are in the dark, or finding parking places all over the city in those “sketchy” neighbourhoods where artists sometimes find the big, empty spaces they need to create their work.

Included in the project’s two pages of participating galleries and workshops will be shows such as a retrospective of Patrick Mautloa’s work at the Mashumi Art Project on Soweto’s Vilakazi Street, walk-abouts with photographer Roger Ballen whose work is currently on show at the Circa Gallery. In addition there will be panel discussions such as the “Regarding Women” session, an event set for Gallery Momo.

Ibibio Nigeria, Artist unrecorded, date unknown, wood, paint, nails. 60 x 53.5 x 54 cm-¬Wits Art Museum (2)

Ibibio Nigeria, Artist unrecorded, date unknown, wood, paint, nails. 60 x 53.5 x 54 cm, Wits Art Museum

Commenting on his own participation in Art Week, Mautloa said the project “helps to re-foster art in our communities and helps communities to know about local artists. For me, it would be a mini-retrospective having work dating from more or less the time I started doing art. Quite exciting that I would be showcasing in the place I lived around since I came to Mofolo in 1954.”

Molemo Moiloa, the project’s organiser, explained that the impetus for this project in South Africa first began in Cape Town and VANSA has imported it to Johannesburg for the first time this year. The guiding idea has been to bring together the arts community to generate a stronger energy to get people into galleries, as well as create a much more robust community of creators, consumers – as well as all those who just like the idea of seeing new work. By contrast to Cape Town’s walking-style Art Week circuit, the Johannesburg hubs must cover some very diverse, very spread out, distant neighbourhoods – each with a very different vibe – and so the bus becomes a practical necessity to people out of their homes and into the galleries.

-¬Serge Nigiteka, Tunnel VIII, Studio Study XIII, 2014, courtesy of Stevenson Johannesburg

Serge Nigiteka, Tunnel VIII, Studio Study XIII, 2014, courtesy of Stevenson Johannesburg

Looking forward, Moiloa adds that beyond this upcoming Art Week itself, VANSA is hoping to build a greater momentum of appreciation for new art by marketing the idea of people actually buying new art, rather than just looking at it. Artists have to eat too, after all. As part of this, they are even trying to sort out a unique lay-away art purchasing arrangement that will offer zero interest loans for new art purchasers. And, unlike buying, say, a refrigerator or a new coat, the purchaser would get to take the art home while still paying it off.

Art Week is just the first step in a larger, even more ambitious plan. Going forward, on VANSA’s checklist is its effort to give emotional support to new art buyers so that they are not intimidated by the idea of checking out galleries for art they may actually wish to own and hang on the walls on their homes. They want to generate a whole new cohort of active art purchasers from among the country’s growing middle class, thereby giving an actual revenue stream to the city’s artists as well so that they can survive – and even thrive. VANSA also hopes to throw its support behind the government’s promised development of and support for a new national network of community art centres – and to spur a revival of arts education in all of the nation’s schools. That is one ambitious agenda they’ve carved out for themselves in South Africa’s art world.

But first, Art Week Johannesburg beckons. DM


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