Archive: Issue No. 139, April 2009

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William Kentridge and Margarite Stephens

William Kentridge and Margarite Stephens
Empire Romain (Stalin) 2008
327 x 356cm

Best of the Joburg Art Fair
by Michael Smith

El Antsui at October Gallery facing off Gavin Turk at The Goodman Gallery

El Anatsui's spectacular floor-to-ceiling 'textile', sewn together from wine bottle lead was, for most visitors, the most spectacular and surprising work on a Fair that was saw many more safe options being peddled. It was especially exciting to see an equally impressive screen print on canvas by YBA star Gavin Turk at the other end of the long corridor, facing off El Anatsui's work. The gulf between mindsets, Anatsui's subtle commentary on African social predicaments versus Turk's brash riffing on Warholian celebrity obsession, was a visual conversation the likes of which one won't see again soon.

Georgina Gratrix's paintings at Whatiftheworld

How much more humour can possibly be wrung out of rehashing the politics of Western art, after so many turns on the roundabout? In Georgina Gratrix's hands, apparently still a lot. The Cape Town-based painter gives the impression of having been pottering around in her studio disjointedly when she stumbled upon a very rich mine of particularly female humour about the grand narratives of modern painting. The results? Quite simply, always good. Though one can scarcely flick a palette without hitting five art 'tricksters' at the moment, it's great to see one who's mastery of her medium is as effortless as it is convincing. Even Gratrix's smallest daubs on paper make Avant Car Guard's monumental piss-take paintings at the same gallery seem overwrought and awkwardly unfunny.

The Puma Creatives Dinner and the Art Ambassadors

Okay, so I was there by dint of a benevolent friend who kindly put me on the list, so it seems rather wretched to bitch about it (sorry, friend, this isn't aimed at you), but honestly: Art Ambassadors (who were introduced at this event)? Seriously? Is this where we're at? Do we need our own little art world versions of Walmart's Greeters, opening their arms and friendly smiles to welcome us into an industry we already inhabit? Clearly the brainchild of a corporate think tank, this initiative is on my Best Of list only because its absolute, bald-faced cheek was entertainingly astounding.

And just so the rest of won't be disappointed, you should know now that I've snapped up ace raconteur Mark Read to say a speech at ArtThrob's annual dinner, so you've lost out and will have to be content with Puma Creatives head Mark Coetzee's mic-shy sotto voce.

ArtThrob Editions's Willem Boshoff etching

I heard more than one person say that ArtThrob's Willem Boshoff's Political Candyfloss (left and right) etching was the bargain of the Art Fair, so I don't feel too bad marketing it a bit more.

Timeously released just ahead of the elections later this month, Boshoff's image pokes playful fun at sloganeering and the language of vapid promises, reminding us that SA politics, when it's not being mortally dangerous, is (inadvertently) very comical.

Pick of the Jo'burg art fair
by Katharine Jacobs

Art Fairs, as we all know, are about commerce. Many of the works on show then, come from the predictable big names upon whom the galleries can rely to make back their (substantial) costs. In fact, some of the big names make an appearance on virtually every second booth. Despite this, there were some spectacular works on this year's Joburg Art Fair. Here is a selection of my favourites.

Joachim Shönfeldt Four Musicians (Moo, roar, chee-ow, yeee-oh) - Warren Siebrits

Originally commissioned by Okwi Enwezor for the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, Schönfeldt's performance on the Art Fair's opening night is comically appropriate. The sculpture is something of a face-off; a taxidermied tower consisting of a cow, on top of a lion, on top of an eagle, on top of a pea fowl, all staring down the musicians facing them and playing their instruments from a set of wooden steps. Their mouths agape, as if screaming, they are given voice by the musical ventriloquists, playing James French's discordant musical score The Four Musicians.

As someone who frequently finds myself speaking on behalf of artworks, I feel a certain sympathy for the musicians, who are attempting to paraphrase the unspeakable pain of the animals.

Schönfeldt's work, which has previously explored the difficulties of narrating dumb objects (he collaborated with writer Ivan Vladislavic on Model Men, asking Vladislavic to narrate his images with text) was a nice opener to the fair, with its veritable cacophony of dumb and largely uncurated objects. The music, which reached us over at the ArtThrob booth, was also the perfect tragi-comic soundtrack to the disorder which had reigned all afternoon as we set up.

Mary Sibande They Don't Make Them Like They Used to at Gallery Momo

I've seen Sibande's fighting/dancing domestic workers many times in reproduction, but life size, they have quite an impact. They are humorous, yet tragic; arms posed rigidly, like those of dolls acting out a child's demands.

Ceramic Matters Place Setting... A Spirit Voucher at Southern Guild

This year, the Joburg Art Fair organizers decided to include a single design booth. Southern Guild rose to the challenge with a gargantuan gorilla drinks cabinet, the primate's chest flapping open to reveal a gold-leafed interior and champagne glass, a pretty polyhedral plastic table and a large algae-coloured felt lump, growing out of the floor. My favourite, however, had to be the work of the Ceramic Matters boys Gerhard Swart and Anthony Harris. This duo of ceramicists is a previous winner of the VISI Design Award, and working on the avant-garde of design means their work straddles the art/design divide rather nicely. Two ceramic tables overflow with ceramic limbs, skulls and piles of sagging breasts, the bone-coloured porcelain both memento mori and decadent table setting. Similar, perhaps, to Gonçalo Mabunda's chairs constructed out of guns over at Henri Vergon's booth, only prettier.

El Anatsui Many Moons II at October Gallery, London

El Anatsui's creations are always beautiful, and I was glad that I could see this one from the ArtThrob booth. I spent a long time staring at it, pondering on the labour required to produce it, and its relationship to alcohol, colonialism and neo-colonialism. I'd like to see the artist's hands; they must be covered in calluses. Then again, maybe his assistant does it all for him. Let's hope not: that would be a bitter 'relational model' to demonstrate Anatsui's concerns.

William Kentridge Empire Romain (Stalin) at Goodman Gallery

Speaking of assistants, Kentridge acknowledges the work of Margarite Stephens, with whom he collaborated to produce the monumental tapestry which was over at the Goodman booth. This is some avant garde needlecraft; the three figures traipsing across a subtly-coloured map, actually managed to look like they too were constructed of the torn fragments of black paper from which Kentridge's sculptures are constructed.

Nicholas Hlobo Ndimnandi ndindodwa at Michael Stevenson

I've just noticed that all of the works I've chosen are somewhat three-dimensional. I'm not sure if this is down to my own bias, or to the quality of the works on show. But I really do love Hlobo, so I'm going to include his leather chair with engorged protuberance of inner tubes here.

Kathryn Smith and Christian Nerf curated Bad Form: Things and Stuff. at blank projects

Jonathan Garnham managed to complete his nude pose for Katherine Bull's Data Capture: a muse, but Barend de Wet's The Difference between Life and Art: I knit, you not was cancelled a short 9 minutes into the performance. De Wet's more frontal pose, as he stood knitting naked in the blank projects space, seemingly did not find favour with Fair organizers or parents in the children's art booth opposite. Nevertheless, the blank projects group managed to provide a constant source of entertainment, changing their booth everyday, and unceasingly undercutting the commercial bent of the fair with thoroughly un-saleable or non-commercial works.

Best of the Joburg Art Fair
by Natasha Norman

Despite my commitment to attending the Art Fair for all three of its days and the opening night, my art sighting was severely limited by my employment tether to the ArtThrob stand. During quiet spells I did wonder through the fair in a haze of vitamin-induced detachment (thanks to the free juices from the Whatiftheworld crew). The resultant top choices are thus excusably eclectic, generally quite meditative and in no particular order.

El Anatsui's Many Moons II
Breathtaking. Up to that moment I had only seen photographs of the large cloth he made for the Venice Biennale last year that draped the entire front faƁade of an old Venetian building. Made from bottle tops (the plastic covers of wine bottles and metal seals of cooldrink bottles), Anatsui's team of workers have crafted a glistening, shimming river of colour and pattern that filled a wall of the October Gallery's booth, attracting viewers down the long isle between stands.

Gerard Marx's Lowveld Portraits
Arguably a cheap trick, Marx's portraits rely on that moment when your eye finally shifts from one perspective to another and you begin to see a face in the tangle of plant silhouettes. Even if you fail to see the faces, the effervescent quality of the Indian ink rubbed off in areas to create delicate tonal gradations is captivating enough. The poetry of their first impression as ghostly botanical images on cotton paper is enchanting enough. A classy work at the Warren Siebrits booth.

Richard Forbes's Quiet Revolution
This work at the Artist Proof Studio was a great excuse to indulge in the energy of the booth. The feeling of collaboration and an excitement for image-making is captivated in this work by Forbes. It was created in a gallery space where visitors were invited to spin tops on etching plates. The plates were then printed, with luxurious print results. The furry drypoint printed line in its myriad of small spirals all over the plate speaks to an enchanting cosmic imagination.

Goodman Gallery booth
I felt that the Goodman Gallery Booth was particularly well curated. It had three sections that enabled great dialogue between the various artists in their stable. Thomas Mulcaire's 'light painting' (as I am wont to call it) had a particular enduring allure. Its position directly opposite the entrance to a space enabled the viewer to be seduced by a fascinating perspectival illusion. The Kentridge, Bell and Nlengethwa collaboration was also very intruiging. Each artist's signature drawing style was immediately recognizable but lyrically orchestrated in the resultant drawing. The large Kentridge tapestry was also magnificent. Clearly visible from the mezzanine level, it was a beacon to the Goodman stand.

Wayne Barker's 'Desire' and 'Golden Girls'
Wayne does it again. The real WOW factor coupled with his uniquely South African content. Shown at the SMAC Gallery booth, these two large images are created entirely from strung glass beads. Both depict an iconic bare-breasted African beauty from the waist up with her head thrown back in an overt centrefold gesture, presiding over one rural and one urban housing view.

Anthea Moys and Tony Morkel's 'Fast Art Girls'
The project section of this year's Art Fair was a breath of fresh air. For me the most memorable had to be this art takeaway stand. Positioned on the street entrance to the convention centre, the energy and wit of the performance had a fair number of smokers spell-bound. Buy a beer and make your own Kendell Geers artwork, be the new face of Edvard Munch's scream or dance to the bad piano techno courtesy of Moys's team of white trash socialites. A riot.