The Investec Cape Town Art Fair in 2018.
The Investec Cape Town Art Fair in 2018.
Image: Anthea Pokroy

“Collecting African art is cool,” says Laura Vincenti, director of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair (ICTAF). “The South African art scene is becoming trendy.”

The local art market is the fastest growing in Africa. A good part of that growth is the result not only of local art collectors becoming more interested in contemporary art, but also international collectors who are becoming interested in what she prefers to call “contemporary art from Africa” rather than the ubiquitous “African art”. She says the current appetite for local art has been fuelled by a number of South African and African artworks fetching high prices at international auctions. The opening of the Norval Foundation and the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town hasn’t hurt either.

For the ICTAF, that’s meant a change of pace. Vincenti, who has two decades of art-world experience in her native Italy and Europe – and is by training an architect – has worked hard over the past couple of years to reposition the ICTAF as an international art fair. While there are already international fairs specialising in African art – The Armoury Show in New York, 1-54 London, AKAA in Paris, among others – it was time for a local event to engage with an international audience.

For Vincenti, that has involved travelling the world convincing international galleries (especially from the rest of the African continent) to take stands at the ICTAF, and international collectors and art institutions to attend the fair. “We try to bring a lot of collectors from around the world,” she says. “Collectors from Europe, from the US, from Dubai, from China. Museums coming from the US and from Italy.” The result is that this year’s ICTAF will have a distinctly international flavour and a more sophisticated approach than it did in its early days.

As an architect, she says, “The floor plan is my baby.” The design and layout of the fair will deliver a much more refined experience with architectural prompts and cues to make it easier to navigate. “I really want people to understand where they are and what they are looking at,” says Vincenti.  Not only is the entire layout treated as a mini “urban project” but subtle prompts like colour; the height and depth of the stalls; the positioning of the lighting, and even tactile cues like the flooring, will help to decode the experience for visitors.

Laura Vincenti.
Laura Vincenti.
Image: Supplied

“The artworks are the protagonists, so the architecture has to be hidden,” she explains, but it has to do a lot of hard work in the background. Vincenti says the sophistication of the design of the fair itself is all in the service of making the art more accessible, both to local visitors and to international collectors, who need an invisible hand to guide their experience. “I always say to my team, we’ve got a responsibility in informing people,” she says. “And also, the art fair has to play a role of gathering people around. I think it is extremely important for SA especially.”

The development of an art community, she says, is crucial to the continued growth and development of the South African art market. Investment in public art institutions is also important to the sustained growth of the fair and the market in general. For that reason, it is vital for the ICTAF to dovetail with a broader event, like Art Week Cape Town, and for the talks programme and walkabouts with artists to continue.

It’s a watershed moment for South African and African contemporary art and it certainly looks like ICTAF is stepping up to the plate!

- The Investec Cape Town Art Fair takes place on February 15 – 17 2019 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC).

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