Although Fried Contemporary is well into its tenth year of bringing contemporary art to Pretoria, the ‘Young Collectors’ exhibition that opened on the 3rd of September 2015 is definitely a first of its kind. It serves as a sort of democratisation of the art world that allows for greater participation from artists, curators and audiences alike. ART AFRICA met up with gallery director Mika Thom to discuss the potential of such an exhibition, the work on show, and the importance of establishing a ‘buying culture’ amongst South Africa’s emerging markets:
Close up of Marna Hattingh’s Little Things, 2015. Silkscreen print on paper, 65 x 95cm.
According to the gallery director, Mika Thom, the exhibition ‘Young Collectors’ opens up the art world to interested parties who may not be that familiar with the gallery-scene. It allows them to attend openings, see for themselves what contemporary art is and observe how a professional contemporary art gallery conducts business. Most importantly, it creates an opportunity for young collectors to invest in their peers.
The ‘Young Collectors’ exhibition provides a multi-faceted space where established norms and traditions of the South African art world can be interrogated. The exhibition is curated by talented newcomer Shenaz Mahomed, a recent Fine Arts graduate from the University of Pretoria. Although Mahomed has been working with the gallery for some time now, this is her first solo exhibition. Thom could not be more pleased with the fit, as she states that Shenaz knows what it’s like to be an artist and can relate to the artists with whom she has daily and project-specific dealings: “It’s a huge advantage in terms of how the gallery conducts its business activities – what we exhibit, how we relate to artists and how we choose to communicate the artists’ work, their aesthetic interests, intentions and so on, to our clients.”
Young curator Shenaz Mahomed standing in front of the ‘Young Collectors’ exhibition.
The brilliance of Mahomed’s entry into the world of curatorship is the manner in which she seamlessly combines the work of some well-established artists such as Frikkie Eksteen, Amita Makan, Marna Hattingh and Sarel Petrus, along with relatively new names such as Heidi Fourie, Izak Buys, Mashudu Nevhutalu and Niall Bingham. She is also quick to note that the word ‘young’ is not necessarily a direct reference to age, but rather a different and fresh approach to the arts. Mahomed said that her concept for the exhibition arose when she realised that there was not a clear-cut entry point into the art world and she set about creating ‘Young Collectors’ as a solution to that problem. The success of her curatorial debut can be seen in the eclectic, yet professional manner she walks the visitor through the saloon-styled exhibition.
A variety of artworks such as cast bronze paper planes, wooden prints, paper cuttings, oil paintings, photography, silkscreen prints and illustrations adorn the walls, floor and ceiling, yet somehow allow enough space for artistic contemplation. The subject matter of the works all complement each other by telling a story about an emerging South Africa that tackles everything from identity politics and the reimagining of our landscape to the more personal narrative of taxi drivers.
Sarel Petrus, Paper Jets, 2015. Bronze. Image Courtesy of Storm Jade Brown
ART AFRICA chatted to Mika Thom about the significance of the ‘Young Collectors’ exhibition:
‘Young Collectors’ looks like the start of some exciting developments that the Fried Contemporary is undertaking. Where do you hope that this exhibition will take both the Friend Contemporary, as well as the Pretoria art scene? Does it serve as an appetiser for the launch of the ‘Young Collectors Club’?
The ‘Young Collectors’ exhibition will become an annual event. It is a great way to showcase the plethora of talent that greater Pretoria has. But it is not geographically specific as we work with a lot of artists and collectors from Jo’burg and Cape Town and elsewhere. One of the main aims of the exhibition and the gallery is to open up the art scene in Pretoria, and to bring great, professional talent to the Capital City. To this end, we establish good working relationships with other professional galleries around South Africa.
Are there any particular artists featured in this show that you are most excited about?
I am very excited about Marna Hattingh’s work. It feels very fresh and light – despite being rather dark! Her work reminds me of the Gruffalo, the magical world wherein art resides, and at the same time a reminder of the monsters and possible dangers lurking behind the next corner. Minenkulu Ngoyi is another young artist that really excites me. For the ‘Young Collectors’ exhibition, he created beautiful and edgy silkscreen prints using aerosol spray-paint. Subject matter-wise the prints refer to current debates regarding the transformation of public space in South Africa: the portrait of Cecil John Rhodes adorns both the works included by Ngoyi in this exhibition.
The event explicitly states its aim of establishing a ‘buying culture’. What does this culture look like for Fried?
The aim of establishing a ‘buying culture’ is about establishing relationships with, and providing a service to, our clients and artists. I also think Pretoria is something of a neglected city in terms of the ambitions and needs of the rising middle class to spend their disposable income in a meaningful way. Spending money on good, contemporary art makes a huge difference to the market, the artists and in a broader view, the creative economy.
Left to right: Shenaz Mahomed, Mika Thom, Nigel Mullins & Tanya Poole.
You can catch the ‘Young Collectors’ exhibition in the Collector’s Room at the Fried Contemporary in Pretoria. The exhibition is also running concurrently with a selection of work from renowned South African Artists Tanya Poole (Who Are You?) and Nigel Mullins (Obsolete Remnants of The Industrial Age), as well as notable works by Diane Victor and Roger Ballen. Be sure to pop in before the 3rd of October, as you would not want to miss out on this!
Fried Contemporary: The Collector’s Room
3rd September – 3rd October 2015