In living colour.

In the words of curator, educator and designer ,Prem Krishnamurthy, “Once you move away from white as the baseline, a whole ’nother world opens up.”, and what a world TAF opened up for itself, and its visitors through the use of colour. Re-imagining institutionalized spaces, like museums, galleries, and art fairs, is a collective effort, one TAF bravely stepped into, with paint giants Plascon South Africa, and South African interior-architectural studio, Tonic Design. Plascon South Africa’s extensive research into developments in interior, product design and fashion for its annual Colour Combination, and Tonic Design’s careful consideration into their customized handmade products, made working with these two industry professionals a dream. 

With 35 exhibitors under one roof, our main challenges were, unifying the space, navigating how each colour could have a completely different impact on a space depending on lighting and layout.

”For TAF 2023 we challenged ourselves to produce an environment that’s dynamic and engaging. Unlike many other art fairs that often duplicate a traditional white cube gallery space, we have selected a focused and sophisticated colour palette that navigates your eye through the exhibition. These colours are carefully selected and when grouped together, or displayed against each other in context of the art on display, become a larger installation, in itself. It’s a daring approach that will leave the viewer more energized by viewing the individual art work of each gallery, but also experiencing the totality of the colour concept spread across the indoor and outdoor space.” – TAF’23 creative director, Tiaan Nagel

The modernist construct of the “white cube” is a concept that is actively interrogated by institutions world-wide, with MoMA at the forefront of this conversation. This narrative forms a part of the greater discourse that seeks to “decolonize” the art world. Institutions like Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), Standbank Gallery, and Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation (JCAF) are not new to the movement. The Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation recently produced a spectacular exhibition titled Minimalist Identities In the Global South, where Executive Director and chief curator, Clive Kelner’s curatorial approach referenced the cultural and architectural heritage of Kahlo, Sher-Gil and Stern. The use of the colour red, in Sikh Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gil’s room, opens a window that allows viewers to imagine India’s red soil pigmentation, and evokes the senses, with the heady scent of Indian spices/cooking. Colour, in this case, becomes an agent to immersivity.

When used strategically, colour can be an instrument to pace, and can spatially guide the viewer through a show, or exhibition content. TAF’s 2023 colour story sets off in the Main Section where galleries such as Dale Sargent, White River Gallery and WORLDART had booths painted in muted shades of blue found in nature that are a source of creativity and inspiration, desaturated pinks and a Plascon Gold Cadillac (Y3 -B1 -1) that brought visitors back to the paint companies colour combination for 2023, which looked at earthy Africa-inspired hues, and reflects on the way of life in Africa. The colour story continued in the outdoor space, and tent area where the remaining galleries exhibited. Grouping booths together, and leading visitors from one section to the next, the color selection in itself becomes a narrative. 

The decisions and discussions around colour selection can run up until the very last minute, with some concerns about breaking the norm, to some embracing the change. TAF caught up with exhibitors Collen Maswanganyi from Carving X, and Buqaqawuli i Nobakada from VETO ART COLLECTIVE, who had this to say;

My initial concern is that I was not sure what colour I was going to get that was going to complement our artworks, since most of them are very colourful. I was very happy when I arrived for the installation and found fellow exhibitors  raving about our gold colour. But it was after I installed the artworks and saw the golden colour complementing our artworks more than just a white booth would do. I then felt that This year, TAF had given us a golden opportunity as Carving X.” – Collen Maswanganyi

“When initially planning the exhibition, we had envisioned a traditional white cube gallery aesthetic for the walls and curated the booth with that in mind. However, TAF had a different vision and we were all apprehensive about the chosen color for the booth. To our pleasant surprise, the color choice worked wonderfully. It created a striking contrast with the art, bringing the entire booth to life. The body of work presented focused on regal performances of femininity, showcasing gracefully bold women who demanded attention. The color of the booth enhanced this theme, making it impossible for anyone to simply glance and move on. It has made us rethink our approach to future presentations and exhibitions.” – Buqaqawuli Nobakada

Museums,art fairs and galleries have occupied a significant role in the shaping of South Africa’s art historical narrative, having said that, these art spaces no longer have the authorial voice, and bridging the gap between traditional purist views and those of modern day curatorial practice can ensure a hybridity within the ecosystem where everyone is seen, and represented. To those who showed up and showed off with Turbine Art Fair, and our beloved exhibitors we thank you, and see you next year.

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