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RMB Latitudes built on last year’s successes

- By Mary Corrigall

RMB Latitudes Art Fair, Reservoir Projects, Lexus Best Stand Winner, photography by Anthea Pokroy


Is there a collective noun for queues of Ubers? Uberrama? Uberclust? Those standing on Hope Street outside Shepstone Gardens during the RMB Latitudes Art Fair weren’t surprised by the sight of lines of Ubers and Lexus cars and complimentary buses ferrying visitors to their cars or front doors. Last year a similar scene had unfurled, as Joburg’s well-to-do, RMB’s VIP clients and the local art community gravitated towards this luxury destination.

On the face of it, this fair appeared to be repeating the success of its inaugural run last year. However, if you scrutinised the programme and perused the art closely, Latitudes had turned things up a notch or two. For those who had already been seduced by the gardens last year, there was more to see and do. Aside from off-site adventures, there were more spaces for art such as the Manor House and the gardens functioned as a showroom with sculptures by a range of artists represented by Everard Read Gallery. Without a doubt a large-scale cerise vase by Githan Coopoo emblazoned with the phrase: “I’m sorry I love you too much”, became a visual marker of this year’s edition with it featuring in countless selfies and Insta feeds, living up to its epithet.

It was a reminder of the good old days of art fairs when strategically placed eye candy would tease crowds and punctuate rows of paintings. Not that all the sculptural works were OTT. Lebo Kekana’s collaboration with N I S H in the creation of Protoscape, a series of 6 wooden boxes that were placed at the entrance of Latitudes Centre for the Arts was a more understated work. These artisan-made boxes could be moved, around, and stacked to either function as art objects, or design objects – people could sit on them and converse, or simply admire them as abstract forms. This challenged the look-but-don't-touch culture that has defined art displays.

RMB Latitudes Art Fair 2024, Protoscape, by Lebo Kekana of FEDE in collaboration with N I S H, photography by Anthea Pokroy

This year's edition left me with a sense that the organisers and participants have ‘settled’ into this fair and its unique setting. On one level this translated into a better selection of art. Last year, some dealers were perhaps unsure what to show, as they were feeling out the audience that this fair would attract – given RMB’s previous sponsorship of the Turbine Art Fair. The success of that first edition and the lush, upmarket setting established this as a more ‘serious’ (though accessible) fair and it perhaps became clear to some that the intimacy the spaces engender demands more considered art encounters. 

Steered by the organisers, there was a sense that dealers had planned more thoughtfully and brought new exciting works to the art fair – works that were made with the fair and its setting in mind. Many works were larger in scale and unqiue for that artist's practice. For example, Kalashnikovv, offered a large-scale work by Boeme Diale (which sold quickly disappearing after the vernissage) in which the naked subject had escaped from the vases she has up until recently been trapped in. On the booth were some unique textile works by Charity Vilakazi that were made by the Keiskamma team in the Eastern Cape. It was easy to imagine that a large painting, Postmodern Antiquity (2024) by Phoka Nyokong - whom I have associated with photography and performance, at the Gallery Momo booth was envisaged as their showstopper for this fair.

In contrast to a salon-style hanging of a mixed bag of art, most dealers tended to present a variety of works by three or fewer artists, engendering a closer view into a selection of practices. In this way, you could get an idea of how they stretched out a concept or defined their idiosyncratic aesthetic. For example, a collection of photographic works by Jamal Nxedlana in which he employs clothing labels, either placing them on subjects or generating a collage, established how he was working with this overlooked (though socially and economically loaded) element of clothing – particularly in the context of sartorially inclined photographic art. Seeing one of those works in isolation would not have had as much impact.

RMB Latitudes Art Fair 2024, 'Untitled' featuring Colijn Strydom's work, photography by Anthea Pokroy

Similarly, in showing a collection of new works by Liam van der Heever, Ebony/Curated were able to demonstrate this artist’s quirky, humourous and surreal vocabulary channelled through a vivid palette that left you with a distinct sense that belying the cheery colours and tongue-in-cheek expression lies a dark reality. Untitled’s mint green wall populated by pastel-coloured works by the hugely talented Colijn Strydom was a visual highlight of the Centre Court. Solo displays by Lucinda Mudge and Kevin Collins in the Chapel were well-paired.

RMB Latitudes Art Fair 2024, Frederic Malle x Lucinda Mudge collaboration, photography by Anthea Pokroy

Even, Nelson Makamo pulled out all the stops, with a large-scale Untitled painting that aligned with the 30-year democracy anniversary but also the election climate which has turned a spotlight on today’s political leadership. His characteristic bespectacled young subjects surrounded by crowds and some of the country's late struggle heroes – Madiba, Winnie Mandela – in attendance appeared to summarise the paucity of new leaders of the same heft and how the legacy of the past continues to shape the present. With a R2-million price tag it probably has or will find its way into the hands of those with influence. Of course, this also touches on what is special about this fair; independent artists, who are no longer withering on the side-lines of the art market, can participate in a fair with status even if they do not have gallery representation.

RMB Latitudes Art Fair 2024, Nelson Makamo at his booth, photography by Anthea Pokroy

As art fairs tend to be staged inside convention centres it is rare to encounter works that are fitting to the environment – unless they happen to offer a wry commentary on art fair culture. This is what is special about Shepstone Gardens and this fair – the myriad of buildings and spaces lend themselves to particular works being shown in them. Two textile works made from silk and beads by Bulumko Mbete presented by Reservoir Projects in the Latitudes Arts Centre appeared like a natural extension of the textured walls in that grand gallery. This – and the marble sculptures by Michele Mathison which also looked at home in the space - no doubt contributed to the gallery walking off with the Lexus Award for the Critics Choice Award for the most outstanding booth.

RMB Latitudes 2024, Githan Coopoo sculpture, photography by Anthea Pokroy

Architect Kate Otten’s threads, an installation created for the 2023 Venice Biennale of Architecture, proved another showstopper but also one that was appropriately placed. Suspended in a tower it could be viewed from below and above, allowing visitors to enjoy the contrast between the clean surface and the ‘messy’ underside of this superb textile work, which I was grateful South Africans could get to see and enjoy.

The placement of an artwork can add to its visual appeal. This point was driven home in the rooftop studios where the stone walls and skylights added drama to several works in the exhibition The Orchid and The Wasp: Thin Lines of Becoming curated by Denzo Nyathi. A bead-encrusted chair, Where you Once Sat, by Salah Davids suited the grand vacant interior that, unlike a white cube or convention centre evoked a human presence, history. The natural light that shone onto Thero Makepe’s Kereke (2019) image presenting a religious ceremony echoed the light forming the centre point of the photograph. This building has a distinctly chapel feel to it too, making the work fitting to its setting.

The natural stone backdrop for the painting, To be a kid again, by Ayanfe Olarinde complemented the block shapes of the heads of the subjects, drawing attention to them as youngsters that had yet to be ‘knocked, or carved’ into shape.

This characteristic of this art fair, which the variety of venues allows for demonstrates that acquiring art is not only about taste or fashion but relies on a confluence of conditions which include the space where it is intended to be displayed. This also lent richness to the viewing experience of a fair that has evolved into Joburg’s premier art event.

RMB Latitudes Art Fair 2024, photography by Anthea Pokroy

Corrigall is a Cape Town based commentator, researcher and director of the HEAT arts festival

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