The FNB Joburg Art Fair opened last night for invited guests, and the event saw many galleries pulling out all the stops to secure the attention of the well-heeled crowds.
Hardest to ignore was Rooke Gallery, whose performance had Joachim Schonefeldt raising two flags while Linda Buthelezi of the Blk Jks played an indecipherable but rocking version of the national anthem on an electric guitar through an amplifier mounted on one of the flagpoles.
On a quieter tack but no less diverting is Fair artist Paul Emmanuel's mesmerising prints coupled with a strong, documentary-style accompanying film. The installation provides a welcome moment of focus among the polyphony of one-liners which art fairs inevitably, perhaps must, engender.
The Goodman Gallery has pulled out all the stops with a set of large-scale works by William Kentridge bedecking its booth's back wall, as well as a great bronze by Brett Murray from 2010 titled The Party vs. the People (see ArtThrob's Facebook page for an image of this). They're also taking chances on some younger turks, showing killer works by Colbert Mashile and Stuart Bird, which is great to see.
Stevenson once again shows its appetite for a focused approach to fairs, with a booth dedicated entirely to works by two of the gallery's stable, Wim Botha and Serge Alain Nitegeka. This is to great effect, the shard-like wings of Botha's sculptures playing off Nitegeka's sparse neo-minimal paintings with an aplomb absent at most other booths, many approaching an FMCG-style merchandising philosophy in their curating.
A similar approach is evident at Joao Ferreira, with the booth dominated by a body of new oils by Sanell Aggenbach.
My bias towards painters shows itself in my unofficial vote for the non-existent 'best-in-show' award: Michael Taylor's acrylic Bruised fraternity (2011) at Whatiftheworld shows this artist at full stride and with few currently able to rival his abilities.
At the entrance to the Fair last night I ran into Brenden Gray, academic, writer and sometime ArtThrob contributor. He suggested creating a 'map of migration', a study of whcih artists have shifted galleries since last year's Fair, and where they've moved to. This is a great idea, and is certainly the most gossipy fun you can have at the Fair without talking about Botox: has this artist fled gallery x because of slow or non-payment? Is the marketing at gallery y iffy, and can gallery z promise greater exposure? What kind of knock does a smaller gallery take when one of their startists ups and moves somewhere sunnier? At a Fair where safe bets seem to have prevailed, the subtext is often more interesting than the work...