Escape the Winter Blues with the Investec Cape Town Art Fair

by | Jan 11, 2024 | Columns

Investec Cape Town Art Fair

EBONY/ CURATED booth at Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2023.

A few weeks back, I had the chance to interview Liza Essers, the emblematic director of the Goodman Gallery, opened in Cape Town in 1966 when apartheid was still raging in the country. Discussing with her the booming African cultural scene over the last decade reminded me of a fair I loved visiting: Investec Cape Town Art Fair.

Let’s go back to February 2020. I didn’t yet know that in less than a month, the global Covid-19 health crisis would strike, abruptly halting all artistic events, including fairs. It’s winter in London, cold, damp, and gray, and my husband and I decide to take our then two-year-old daughter to Cape Town. The fair was one stop among others, and I didn’t think it would leave such a lasting impression on me.

If I had to define the Fair, here are the two words I would use: vibrant & lively.

Pauline Loeb at Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2020

Pauline Loeb at Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2020. Courtesy artfairmag.

A Vibrant Art Fair

Vibrant because the fair is the theater of this boiling artistic scene that is the African scene. The contemporary African art scene is a vibrant and rapidly evolving landscape, rich in diversity and creativity. It is marked by a unique blend of traditional influences and modern expressions, where artists explore and redefine cultural narratives. African artists are gaining increasing recognition on the global stage, bringing fresh perspectives to issues of identity, heritage, and socio-political realities.

Back in 2020, I was struck by the great eclecticism of the fair. First, eclecticism in the mediums represented. Sculpture, painting, photography, textile works, and even leather works, like this leather patchwork by Chloe Townsend, presented by local gallery Salon Ninety One.

Chloe Townsend Gallery 51

Chloe Townsend, ‘We’re in this together’, 2020. Leather patchwork with appliqué detail, 160 x 141 cm, Salon Ninety-One. Courtesy artfairmag.

Speaking about mediums, Investec Cape Town Art Fair adds this year a special project dedicated to a selection of contemporary South African ceramic works, titled ‘Cabinet|Clay.’ Ceramics are clearly in vogue (a ceramic fair, Ceramic Brussels, is even launching in a few days!). I also remember an impressive solo show by South African artist Mawande Ka Zenzile, with striking pieces presented by Stevenson Gallery in a very uncommon booth, enhanced with hay.

Napoléon Ai Weiwei

Left: Frances Goodman, ‘Jenga II’, 2023. Glazed Ceramic, 49 x 15 x 15 cm. Courtesy SMAC Gallery. Right: Stevenson’s booth at ICTAF 2020.

You can feel that director Laura Vincenti gives participating galleries great freedom, although she decides on an annual theme that gives coherence to each edition. This year, for example, for their 11th edition, the chosen theme is “Unbound.” It aims precisely to reflect the fair’s commitment to transcending traditional artistic boundaries, embracing a world where creativity knows no limits. The Main section is curated by the Fair’s team which is lead by director Laura Vincenti and brings together 42 leading galleries presenting a rich panel of works, from the figurative paintings of Alexis Schofield at 99 LOOP to the black and white messages by Ed Young at Suburbia Contemporary.

alexis schofield & Ed Young

Left: Alexis Schofield, 𝘚𝘵𝘶𝘥𝘪𝘰, 2023⁠. Ink, copper, and oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm⁠. Courtesy 99 LOOP. Right: Ed Young, ‘I’m a rainbow in a world full of beige people like you’, 2023. Oil on canvas, 80 × 80 cm. Courtesy Suburbia Contemporary

She also curates three additional sections. The ALT section reimagines the traditional art fair format by featuring young, non-traditional art spaces. In the Editions section, a focus is placed on galleries, studios, and workshops that specialize in prints, multiples, and editions from prominent artists. Finally, the Connect section serves as a bridge between art and its audience, spotlighting cultural institutions that bolster artistic production through exhibitions, residencies, and workshops.

A Lively Art Fair

The second word is therefore “lively.” I visit many art fairs around the world. To give you an idea, I visited 34 just in 2023! 4 years after visiting it, Investec Cape Town Art Fair left a beautiful imprint on me with its energy, its lively and young side. Young already by the artists who are exhibited there. Through the Tomorrows/ Today section which showcases emerging and under-represented artists who are expected to make waves in the future. For the second year, Dr. Mariella Franzoni has selected 12 galleries, from Africa, Europe, and the United States, around the theme of ‘Inhabiting the Wild’. I had also been seduced by the SOLO section because I find that SOLOs allow visitors to immerse themselves in the artist’s universe, despite the limited space of a fair stand. It promises to be exciting, especially with the work of South African artist Boemo Diale, presented by Kalashnikovv Gallery, a well curated gallery I had the pleasure to discover at 1-54 London. There will also be the views of interior design and architecture by Congolese artist Cinthia Sifa Mulanga, on the stand of Berlin’s Bode Gallery, or the very beautiful black and white photographs of Lindokuhle Sobeka, which can be found at Goodman Gallery.

Boemo Diale - Kalashikovv Gallery

Boemo Diale, ‘What are you looking at?’, 2023, 1600 x 1200 mm, Mixed Media on canvas. Courtesy Kalashnikovv Gallery.

“Lively” also by the interaction between the visitors of the fair and the merchants and artists. If you are lucky enough to visit Investec Cape Town Art Fair this year, don’t be afraid to talk to exhibitors, gallerists, and other experts. Their aim is to inspire enthusiasm about the artists they represent, not just sell their work. Most are genuinely excited by the pieces they showcase, and will be delighted to discuss them, whether or not you plan to pull out your wallet.

Finally, visiting Investec Cape Town Art Fair is an experience that goes beyond the walls of the fair. It’s the perfect opportunity to discover Cape Town, a city that dances to the rhythm of diverse cultures and breathtaking landscapes. From the iconic Table Mountain, standing as a majestic backdrop, to the colorful streets of Bo-Kaap, every corner tells a story. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa stands as a modern architectural marvel, housing an impressive collection of African contemporary art. The lively V&A Waterfront offers a feast for the senses with local cuisine and artisanal shopping, while the tranquil beaches of Camps Bay provide a serene escape. A short drive away, the Cape Winelands await, inviting you to indulge in world-class wines amidst picturesque vineyards.

Cape Town

You will have understood, it is with a heavy heart that I cannot attend Investec Cape Town Art Fair this year, but I am counting on you to give me a detailed debrief. Have a great visit and especially great discoveries!

More info here or on the Investec Cape Town Art Fair website.

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