The Stellenbosch Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery (SMAC) was Africa’s sole representative at the ARCOmadrid art fair in Spain this year (February 13-17). With more than 200 galleries from 27 countries, ARCO is Madrid’s yearly International Contemporary Art Fair and a key player in the art fair world, and the perfect event for SMAC to see and be seen by art professionals from all over the world—from collectors and buyers to museum directors, gallery owners, artists, and curators.
In fact, ARCO was the first such international event for the SMAC Gallery, which has two locations in South Africa’s Western Cape province—a large, museum style space in Stellenbosch and a recently opened satellite gallery in Cape Town that features newer bodies of work from contemporary artists.
“We’ve been very selective about which fairs to participate in,” said Emma Vandermerwe, the curator at SMAC Gallery who put together the painstakingly detailed proposal for entry into ARCOmadrid. “Each art fair has its own ethos and identity, and a certain style of art with which it corresponds, so we are choosing the fairs we feel we work with best.” This year, SMAC also plans to attend the contemporary art fairs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Vienna, Austria.
Although the gallery is focused on representing international artists, SMAC Director Baylon Sandri says that he prefers to work with artists who have some connection to South Africa, whether they were born in the country, are a permanent resident, or are simply working on a temporary project there. For example, SMAC’s featured artist at ARCO, the black and white photographer Roger Ballen, is originally from New York and has been living in Johannesburg since the 1970s.
With a style founded in documentary photography, Ballen captures the fringes of society, the rural towns and people of South Africa. In the past decade, Ballen’s lens has moved further inward, towards a more personal exploration of his own psyche. “His work is slightly disconcerting,” explains Sandri. “He takes the viewer where he or she might not want to go.”
Ballen recently collaborated with the South African band Die Antwoord for their “I Fink U Freeky” music video, bringing the artist into contact with a more global audience, and as Ballen says in a behind the scenes interview, “into all sorts of people’s heads through the music and through the images.”