August House in Johannesburg's inner city. This is an exclusive art building housing more than 50 independent, pan-African contemporary artists, in private art studios, known to the locals as ‘The Artists’ Playground’
August House in Johannesburg's inner city. This is an exclusive art building housing more than 50 independent, pan-African contemporary artists, in private art studios, known to the locals as ‘The Artists’ Playground’
Image: Supplied

A theme of a few citywide art and design events across Johannesburg in the last few months has been the difficulty of presenting a coherent experience for clients and visitors around different sites in what remains a very disparate and unequal city.

The appeal is clear — to capture the energies and wildly different qualities of one of the world’s most frustratingly interesting and dangerous cities under the rubric of one event and an experience that offers an interested audience a memorable and therefore profitable event.

In practice, Joburg’s legacies of spatial apartheid and crumbling infrastructure make this a daunting prospect. Add to this the fact that most of the city’s art studio complexes and spaces are in the somewhat less salubrious parts of the city’s sprawl, and it’s apparent that the recent Open Studios Weekend, held across no less than seven such studios and artists’ spaces, had the organisers really pushing the boat out.

The Open Studios Weekend was initiated by Meta Foundation, which is a non-profit designed to bring recognition and art buyers to the artists in one of the largest of the Open Studio spaces — August House in End Street.

Visiting Simone Marie Farah's showcase at Victoria Yards.
Visiting Simone Marie Farah's showcase at Victoria Yards.
Image: Supplied

This 1940s industrial building is now home to dozens of artists’ studios, some combining work and living space. Other spaces involved in the initiative around the city include the famous Bag Factory Artists’ Studios, Ellis House, Living Artists Emporium, LAPA at Breezeblock, Transwerke Studios and Victoria Yards. 

The Open Studios programming was loose, and really premised on simultaneously opening up the artists’ spaces to let the public see into the daily working reality of their creative lives, beyond glitzy openings and gallery spaces. Most of the studio spaces organised work to be shown and sold to the visitors, however rudimentarily this was presented.

The format also meant that a wide variety of types and proficiency of work was on show, some, like the three curated group shows in August House, guided by a theme or concept, or the project approach at the LAPA space in Brixton.

“The Praying mantis” is a 3meter high mild steel and wood sculpture at Victoria Yards by Hannelie Coetzee. It is still in progress.
“The Praying mantis” is a 3meter high mild steel and wood sculpture at Victoria Yards by Hannelie Coetzee. It is still in progress.
Image: Supplied

It is a bold and colourful initiative for which the organisers should be congratulated. The formidable logistics challenges of seven different venues across two days were also admirably dealt with by the shuttle system running between venues.

While visitors might have had to search hard for the next William Kentridge, there were some very interesting works on show among the almost 100 artists who participated.

Perhaps most significantly, thousands of people booked and attended the studios, spaces and events across the two days on Saturday May 28 and Sunday May 29.  It’s evidence of a popular interest in art making and artwork that is often overlooked in the clamour about international art fairs and multimillion rand works at auction.

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