Market South Africa

Cape Town boasts 450 projects during year as World Design Capital

Roster of events includes two fairs that opened last week in South African city

Conrad Botes's Bedside Cabinets, 2013, are priced at R28,000 each ($2,567) with the Southern Guild gallery

“We’ve always wanted to launch a fair here; the World Design Capital initiative was the springboard. It has got everyone talking in a different way about design,” says Trevyn McGowan, the co-founder of Guild, billed as Africa’s first international design fair (until 9 March).

The small-scale fair, located at the Lookout on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, includes five commercial galleries and a selection of non-profit organisations and institutions. These include London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which is co-presenting the Maker Library Network collaborative project with the British Council, and the Danish government-funded Design Network Africa initiative.

Guild is an official World Design Capital event, a biennial platform founded by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, a non-governmental organisation based in Montreal. The Finnish capital Helsinki hosted the last edition in 2012. The theme of this year’s event, incorporating 450 projects citywide, is “Live Design. Transform Life”.

“Guild’s primary focus is to celebrate the ‘movement of making’… those who appreciate the enduring value of handmade, limited edition design,” writes McGowan in the fair catalogue.

Along with her husband Julian, Trevyn McGowan founded the Southern Guild in 2008, which represents at least 50 South African artists and designers. In 2011, Southern Guild was the first African gallery to participate in the Design Miami fair. “We stimulate and provoke challenging new work across this country’s design industry,” says Trevyn McGowan who adds that her company commissions work for specific platforms, such as international design fairs.

Southern Guild takes up a substantial amount of space on the fair floor, with works available by 28 designers and collectives including Conrad Botes, whose Bedside Cabinets, 2013, are priced at R28,000 each ($2,567). A quirky drinks cabinet fitted with a walnut veneer top, La La Shwantla, 2013, by the Doktor and Misses duo costs R79,200 ($7,262).

“There is not really a market here yet, but it could be huge,” says Zesty Meyers, the co-founder of the New York gallery R & Company. The Los Angeles-based artist David Wiseman’s intricate Collage Garden Gate Doors, entwined with porcelain flowers, are on display alongside pieces by the New York-based glass blower Jeff Zimmerman and furniture from the “Beast” series, 2013, by the Haas Brothers.

The São Paulo gallery Coletivo Amor De Madre reported healthy sales in spite of the low footfall (the fair was noticeably quiet by the third day after a well-attended opening). The gallery had sold a striking light piece, Medusa Lamp, 2013, by the Brazilian collective 80e8 priced at $4,000, to an African collector (the price point for available works ranges from $5,000 to $28,000). “We’ve seen collectors from Nigeria, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe,” said the gallery founder, Olivia Faria.

“Our audience is growing each day,” says McGowan. Asked whether a second edition of the fair will launch, next year, she responded: "Everyone is approaching Guild like it’s not a one-off.”

Meanwhile, the second edition of the Cape Town Art Fair (28 February-2 March), comprising 42 South African galleries, opened at the Pavilion on the V&A Waterfront. The fair, which is run by the Italian trade fair group Fiera Milano, launched its first edition last autumn but timed its second edition to coincide with key World Design Capital events.

“I’m still gauging the market in Cape Town, and am generally selling lower priced works than at the Joburg art fair [the seventh edition opens in Johannesburg in August],” says Dale Sargent of Art Vault gallery in Johannesburg.

“It’s still quite a conservative market in South Africa. There are still only a handful of collectors who will buy more adventurous contemporary works,“ says Jonathan Garnham, the director of the Cape Town-based gallery Blank Projects. He added that the next edition of the fair will be the “critical one”. Two paintings by Jan-Henri Booyens, both priced at R60,000 each ($5,500), were the most expensive works on his stand.

Heavyweight dealers including Everard Read, Goodman Gallery and Stevenson gallery all took part in the fair which was attended by mainly local collectors and a demographic not usually seen at art fairs: young families and tourists.

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