Exhibiting Change: The art of exposure

16 February 2016 - 02:10 By Tymon Smith

A year ago, Matthew Partridge and I were walking around the exhibitions at the Cape Town Art Fair at the V&A Waterfront, grumbling a little too noisily and looking unimpressed. The fair was a bit of a mishmash and not very user-friendly.A lot can happen in a year and for Partridge and the Cape Town Art Fair, it has. Formerly an arts journalist and History of Art scholar, Partridge, in a simple twist of fate, is now the director of the fair. Speaking from Cape Town ahead of the fair's opening this weekend, Partridge - whose life these days is made up of endless phone calls and meetings, and the kind of logistical headaches you would only wish on your enemies - is hopeful that the fourth edition of the fair will be bigger and more user-friendly.He says: "One of the key challenges for art fairs around the world is the search for new audiences, and the magic point of an art fair is to expose galleries to new business - people that they wouldn't have dealt with before. Galleries bring art to the public and I'm not going to say that an art fair is crucial to the future existence of galleries, but we are putting everybody in one sector under one roof. We want to help our audiences to better understand the product that a gallery presents and in turn, hopefully, better understand what a museum does."The fair moves to its new home at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, which has allowed for the creation of different sections and for all the various galleries and museums to be under the same roof. Partridge says: "The fair has been through an enormous amount of growth over the years. In the first year it was 700m², 1400m² in the second and 2 200m² last year."Moving around from venue to venue didn't work because we couldn't consolidate that growth."I've been given something that I have the ability to make better."The shift to a new venue and the introduction of a stable format have helped with that. It's not so much reinventing it as fixing and giving the whole thing a stable keel."He also hopes that with the inclusion of several curators from around the world including the UK, Russia, China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the fair's talks programme will provide a platform for visitors to hear a variety of perspectives on some of "the important questions of the art world and to try and contextualise issues by getting perspectives from all over the world".With galleries, collectors and art-lovers from around the country, the continent and the world participating, Partridge hopes that this year the Cape Town Art Fair will begin to lead "a three-way conversation between South Africa, the continent and the international market".That's just the kind of idealistic optimism that's needed if the previously unimpressed are to be kept from grumbling their way through this year's fair.The Cape Town Art Fair is at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from February 19 to 21. For more information visit www.capetownartfair.co.za..

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