There was a moment after lockdown level one was announced when art-world punters speculated whether Art Joburg might actually hold a live (or at least blended) event this year after all. It’s not to be. “Firstly, the pandemic is still happening, and we don’t want to follow Europe and the US and have a second wave,” says fair manager Nicole Siegenthaler. “We don’t want to contribute to that in any way.”
Secondly, Art Joburg has poured much thought and effort into its digital incarnation and remains committed to seeing it through. The fair is running later than usual this year, from 6-18 November. The advantage of delaying the fair is that, as Siegenthaler explains, the organisers gave themselves time to develop the best online experience they could. The disadvantage is digital fatigue among their audience: the online viewing rooms, which did so much to help galleries and fairs weather lockdown, have lost some of their lustre.
Siegenthaler insists, however, that Art Joburg has what it takes to invigorate the art world for one last hurrah this year. On one hand, she says, the online platform concentrates on getting the basics right: easy, effective functionality, searching for what you want, and making new discoveries. “We want users to be able to explore the galleries, discover work by new artists,” she says.
And it’ll look good. “It’s really about the images, having big, clear, beautiful imagery,” she says. Also, all the pesky little barriers to entry have been done away with. “There’s no login,” says Siegenthaler. It’s free to the public, so anyone with a device and an internet connection can have a look. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they’ve thought of ways to simply put some fun back into the fair — “for it to be an enjoyable experience”, she says. “We wanted to be a bit playful with technology, so we’re integrating 3D AR [augmented reality] features into the fair… Every gallery will have at least one work that is designed in augmented reality.”
This means that you’ll be able to click on certain artworks, which will launch your camera. “And wherever you are, that artwork will be projected to scale in your setting,” she says. “You can virtually hang your [home] with artwork from the fair.”
Similarly, for the Gallery Lab section, curated by Siegenthaler and artist/gallery owner Banele Khoza to showcase the exciting stuff that isn’t represented by traditional galleries, “each artist, each exhibitor, did a solo presentation completely in augmented reality”, says Siegenthaler. Using Instagram on your smartphone, you can “move around in the installation as you move your phone”.
The fact that the fair is online also means that galleries both from South Africa and the rest of the continent have been able to commit and contribute to the fair, so perhaps the most crucial ingredient is taken care of, too: “It is really going to be a great line-up of contemporary African art,” Siegenthaler says.
• FNB Art Joburg takes place online from 6-18 November 2020, and is free to the public.
• From the November edition of Wanted, 2020.