Makgati Molebatsi cuts a dapper figure in the art world. She is suave and svelte, embodying an intriguing combination of masculine and feminine. She is tutored and well-travelled on the world art circuit, is visible at art openings, and clearly means business when it comes to the business of art.
Molebatsi is the owner of Mak’Dct Art Advisory & Agency, described as a “service providing guidance to private individuals and companies, as well as early career artists, in navigating the contemporary art world”. The company was established in 2016, which means Molebatsi took a very long journey to reach a point where she felt confident in advising her peers about how to acquire new African art.
For the Turbine Art Fair in July, Molebatsi has devised the line-up for the Artinsure Talks Programme. She says she is very careful to contain herself because “curator is a very big word”. But for this event, a curator is exactly what she is.
In Molebatsi’s regular work life the stakes are high enough, even though her job description seems relatively simple. Clients need art, and she must find it for them. Likewise, the Turbine Art Fair needed a respected aficionado to bring collectors to the gathering; to share their secrets with the budding art collecting set. And seasoned collectors are a cagey breed: they’ll only come out for the right invitation.
The Artinsure Talks menu includes an array of committed collectors in conversation, artists engaging on how they acquire art, a film programme about important international collectors, and a focus on Anton Taljaard’s extensive collection of Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, on exhibition at the fair.
Molebatsi is aware that she is embarking on an adventure with a new crop of art buyers, since the Turbine Art Fair is concentrated on the market for pieces costing less than R50 000.
“I’ve made a selection of people that buy within that range. So it can help (the audience) to really extend their thinking about only buying art for the walls; to look at starting a collection. I have brought together speakers that will be saying, ‘I started that way, but what I have done is thought beyond what would fit my walls.’
“I have mixed people with a keen eye who have bought art by Kemang Wa Lehulere, bought Lawrence Lemaoana. People will see that. They need to actually look at those early-career artists.”
Wa Lehurule and Lemaoana have both won important local youth awards: the Standard Bank Young Artist and Absa L’Atelier awards, respectively. They’ve both gone on to exhibit internationally. But their work does not fit simple notions of collector-value, since their art is complex. They are relatively young, evolving, and productive. We’ll be seeing a lot of them in the future.
For all players in the art-collecting game, the million-rand question is: who are the current early-career artists who will form the basis of important collections to come? And how much of a risk should a budding collector be prepared to take? The broader question is: why should one collect contemporary African art in the first place?
Molebatsi engages with the two parallel processes at play: art-buying out of love and advising those collecting for value. For the one you need walls; for the other you need knowledge to contend. “I bought quite s number of artworks in my earlier days. Having been interested in art, and having a passion for art, I decided to transition from a corporate life into making art my business. But I decided it would be totally presumptuous of me to just start saying to people ‘I can advise you’.
“Over the past 20 years I have been in the company of people that are serious curators, serious museum directors. It was educational in itself, but I thought it was not enough. It was not enough for me to have gone to biennales, to go to art fairs or to big exhibitions, or to read about art.
“I needed to formalise it. In 2016 I enrolled in the spring semester course in Art & Business with Sotheby’s Institute of Art, at its London Campus. I spent six months in London studying, networking, and visiting galleries. It was very intense. We tackled the business side and the artistry. I chose to do modern and contemporary, and obviously they didn’t have an African emphasis on it. The only African emphasis they had was William Kentridge.”
But the gaps are closing. The world auction market has slowly woken up to the value of work from the African continent. On May 16, Sotheby’s held its inaugural sale of modern and contemporary African art at its London sale room.
For Molebatsi there are questions that still need to be addressed: “How can corporate collections become more pan-African? Should one buy video art? Can I buy an installation? And can I invest in performance art?
“We are a very cosmopolitan society,” Molebatsi says, “but people must begin to think beyond their walls.”