This year’s Art Fair was an eventful one, where the point of intersection between art and the business of art was brought into the spotlight, challenged and renegotiated. But apart from this drama, the fair presented an incredible array of exceptional artworks across mediums and disciplines. People were wowed by the extremes of what is presented as ‘art’, from a taxidermy giraffe standing on tiptoes atop a ladder, to a cardboard and plastic disembodied leg, to a drain pipe spouting a fountain of red plastic finger nails. These installations and many others sat alongside photo-realistic chalk pastel drawings, paintings and photographs, challenging people to rethink their perceptions of ‘what is art’. For many people, the Art Fair is not so much about buying art, but rather serves as their annual mega crash-course into the contemporary South African art world. To this, the Fair is like diving in the deep end with no water wings provided. This is part one of our Art Fair take-outs – the thoughts and impressions left lingering after the show’s over.
Abstraction rules: Painting, print & drawing
Despite photography being the focus of this year’s Fair, painting, print and drawing featured prominently at different booths. Across these mediums, artists showed a common concern with expressing the emotive rather than the literal, using abstraction and expressive use of colour, form and (in the case of painting) texture as a form of subject matter.
SMAC Gallery presented a selection of works from their upcoming SA- GEO exhibition, which showcased bold graphic works with meditations on pure colour and form. Ink line drawings at Art on Paper became topographical landscapes when viewed from afar, and morphed into optical illusions from up close.
Günther Herbst’s paintings of barges on the River Thames also at Art On Paper, relegated the subject matter in favour of bright, almost luminous colour blocks. This was reiterated although in an inverted form in Jake Aikman’s (SMAC) mono-tone green landscape paintings. In John Murray’s paintings at Whatiftheworld, fragmented geometric shapes are assembled to suggest at a concept or idea, rather than depict a subject. The works of Maja Maljevic and Quinton Williams, both at David Krut Projects, continued this into print, respectively. Both of these artists work with colour and shape to represent parts that suggest wholes, in a similar but distinct manner.
blank projects presented a collection of new paintings by Jan-Henri Booyens. His large works were bold and graphic, and hinted at landscapes that were just hidden from view. This theme was reiterated in smaller works, where flowers were literally hidden beneath a layer of metallic spray-paint.
The Goodman Gallery had a selection of Carla Busuttil’s work, in which colour is used emotively and features are reduced to mere lines and shades, reminiscent of Robert Hodgins. Georgina Gratrix, at SMAC Gallery, has developed her own visual language, defined by deliberately ambiguous ‘cute’ subject matter that is made grotesque by thick, visible layers of paint. Erdmann Contemporary showed a couple of Wilhelm Saayman paintings, in which strange creatures that inhabit a world halfway between a children’s drawing and a nightmare inhabit the canvas frame.
These works act on a responsive plane, evoking different reactions for each person at any given time, avoiding a final interpretation.