Started by boutique fair producer Artlogic in 2008, the FNB Joburg Art Fair is modelled as a contemporary African art fair for the South African market.
It is a platform for the development of art, growing business opportunities for the industry and positioning Johannesburg as a contemporary art city.
"Johannesburg presents itself as a window of opportunity where the culture of exchange and discourse can take place — moving us forward," says Artlogic director Mandla Sibeko.
The fair teams up with cultural institutions, government departments, corporate sponsors and the entire art value chain. Established South African galleries — David Krut Projects, Goodman Gallery, Everard Read, Gallery MOMO and SMAC Gallery — have provided support since its inception.
The fair, which has helped expand the local market and develop new audiences, has grown significantly and now includes more than 60 exhibitions and gallery representation from the US and countries across Africa and Europe, including galleries from Lagos, Harare, Luanda and Addis Ababa.
Lagos, which has at least five galleries of an international standard and the Art X Fair, is a contemporary African art city on the rise. The prestigious FNB Art Prize for 2017 was awarded to Nigerian artist Peju Alatise, represented by the Red Door Gallery in Lagos. "Alatise dissects the economic, societal and cultural issues prevalent in the country, such as financial empowerment, social justice and equality, empowerment of women and expresses these issues through her art," says Red Door co-founder Boa Asiru.
Mariane Ibrahim-Lenhardt, the Somalian-born founder of the Mariane Ibrahim gallery in Seattle, highlights the work of African artists including South African Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi.
Despite Zimbabwe having no commercial gallery system as well as a tiny collector base and a need to import quality art materials, First Floor Gallery in Harare — a not-for-profit trust and artist-led initiative — is attending for the fourth consecutive year. The showcase includes talented artist Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude.
"Apart from building up the gallery system and the local market, there is also need to build up tertiary education programmes in fine arts to international standard so that artists don’t need to leave to further their studies and so that arts management can become a career option," says First Floor Gallery director Valerie Kabov.
The Gauteng department of sports, arts culture and recreation is a secondary sponsor of the fair for the ninth year and is supporting the participation of The Bag Factory and Artists Proof Studios, giving market access to artists from all walks of life.
"When art projects are implemented as part of a wider strategy to impact society, then several linkages can be made between art and job creation, national pride and income generation via tourism," says Asiru.
The fair has played a pivotal role in placing Johannesburg in the global ecosystem of the art world, building an international interest in African art and giving rise to a culture of collecting.
In 2016, 13,000 people attended and R43m was made in art sales. A 10% increase is expected for 2017.
SA has a reasonably sized collector base that includes regular visitors to the fair. Corporate and private collections have substantially expanded over the past decade.
FNB senior communications and sponsorship manager Mari van Niekerk says art can offer good returns. "Art can be less dramatically affected by macroeconomic swings and geopolitical uncertainty.
"While economic down cycles have some impact on the art market, they also spur increased investor interest in alternative asset classes as a means of risk and portfolio diversification. Contemporary African art is one such alternative investment."
The theme of the fair this year is Looking Back and Looking Forward. In looking back at the role art has played in shaping South African history, visiting curator Zoe Whitley of London’s Tate Modern is staging the exhibition Truth, or Some Other Abstraction. It shines a light on SA’s modern artists before 1994, including some items very seldom seen such as a sculpture by Lucky Sibiya and a wood carving by Cecil Skotnes from FirstRand’s collection.
"We are looking to partner with collections that are publicly accessible, so once the fanfare around the 10th anniversary moment and the weekend of the fair dies down, people will have at the forefront of their minds that there is a lot of art of historical significance that they can access elsewhere in the city," says Whitley.
Artists with international standing are engaged with the fair, which has effect on future generations. William Kentridge’s initiative, The Centre for the Less Good Idea, is launching a film public programme on Mandela Square during the fair. Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu is exhibiting her new BMW 7 series signature car for the first time to local audiences.
"SA has the healthiest possible environment for creativity to thrive," says Whitley.
There are six young female artists presenting solo works, including a bright star of the future, Bronwyn Katz, represented by Blank Projects. Buhlebezwe Siwani will exhibit at Whatiftheworld’s booth.
"If you look at collections around the world — women artists have not been represented as well, it is quite a milestone for us as an art fair," says Sibeko.
Berlin-based Robin Rhode is the featured artist of the fair. He is putting up an installation that will challenge audiences to think of issues beyond today.
The FNB Joburg Art Fair is at the Sandton Convention Centre on September 8-10.