Is RMB Latitudes Art Fair Worth the Hype? - Bubblegum Club

Is RMB Latitudes Art Fair Worth the Hype?

Let me preface this by saying I actually had a bloody good time at this year’s RMB Latitudes Art Fair, but not for the reasons one might expect. One of the best parts of going to fairs is rubbing shoulders with loads of interesting and inspiring people and this fair was no different. I saw all sorts including some BubblegumClub faves, Nandi Dlepu, Andre van Wyk, Nkgopoleng Moloi and Seth Pimentel, and even had a cheeky tête-à-tête with the incomparable Dr Same Mdlule

Launched in May 2023, RMB Latitudes is a very young fair. It featured an impressive 40 galleries from 12 countries and around 250 artists. Between the 24th and 26th of May 2024, artists, exhibitors and art lovers were invited to Shepstone Gardens to witness “a collaborative and inclusive African art ecosystem”. Mark Read, Director of Everard Read Gallery is quoted on the fair’s site saying, “A triumph, RMB Latitudes is set to be a new Johannesburg institution.” No wonder expectations were sky high.

It was my first time and I was beyond excited. I had heard great things about the fair’s setup and ambience and I was eager to see it for myself. But on opening night, as our cab drew nearer and we realised we’d have to walk the rest of the way because traffic was so backed up, I reckoned that this would be different from any fair I’d ever experienced, perhaps not for the most favourable reasons. Not only were visitors treated to a queue outside on the brisk pavement, but upon entry, they were faced with yet more queues—this time for refreshments. 

I’ll be perfectly honesta substantial part of my disappointment was that there were no complimentary drinks 🤣🥂and even my complimentary tickets were for one night only. I love art, but I’m also the number one brokie and I insist that a good fair is an affordable fair. In contrast to its more established counterparts who usually appear, at least, to be slightly less stingy, RMB Latitudes opening’s, albeit impressive, laser focus on the bottom line was all too apparent and frankly quite distracting. 

This brings me to my next point. The fair’s indoor-outdoor experience was attractive in theory. Though the vernissage was mostly after dark, it was clear that Shepstone Gardens is a stunning venue and would shine on any other occasion. I have taken issue with the often sterile environments that most art fairs offer—usually converted convention centres or other industrial-sized buildings. Their layout often feels uncreative and corporate but now that I’ve seen an alternative, I appreciate the advantage of the continuous flow of the conventional fair.

Latitudes’ stop-and-go style lacked muchness. The booths were often grouped in entirely different spaces, separated by the outside spaces, making it feel like many mini-fairs instead of one coherent one. If this was the desired effect, then that intention was lost on a viewer such as your humble narrator. The indoor-outdoor experience made it fun to socialise and surely profitable for the fair as we stayed buying drinks. But as I only had complimentary tickets for the vernissage, which started at 6 pm, it was all over before I knew it and that was that.   

I walked away wondering what art had to do with it. Sure, art was present, the spaces were immaculate, and the gardens were lush, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the art had failed to be the focal point. Even when I forced myself to spend time with it, the format and flow felt forced—either cramped or crowded. Of course, like every fair, there were standouts. Moments of technical marvel and aesthetic pleasure. For instance, Nandipha Mntambo’s work at the Everard Read Gallery Sculpture Garden was something to remark upon, and as ever, Kalashnikov’s current golden child Boemo Diale didn’t disappoint.

Some stalls were perfectly positioned, near enough to an entrance or a bar, but with ample viewing space. For instance, Village Unhu enjoyed the scarce benefit of convenience and comfort, allowing the viewer enough space to socialise and enjoy the work without much hassle. I appreciated the opportunity to stand at various vantage points and gaze at Epheas Maposa‘s paintings. As I lingered, I was even lucky enough to have an informative conversation with the co-founder and textile artist Georgina Maxim who was manning the Harare-based art space’s booth.

I will reiterate—I had a good time! This fair is in its infancy so it has plenty of time to iron out the kinks. I may be shooting myself in the foot with this critique. I do it, not because I wish never to return, but because I am indeed quite optimistic about the future of Latitudes. I am looking forward to next year and next time I will have the benefit of hindsight and make sure to save up enough money so I can afford to attend throughout the weekend. Maybe then I will get a proper chance to see the art come to life.

Epheas Maposa, Paradox of Life, PRESENTED BY – Village Unhu, Medium Oil on Canvas, Height 172.00 cm Width 110.00 cm, Year 2024
Epheas Maposa, Something enter my body, PRESENTED BY – Village Unhu, Medium Oil on Canvas, Height 172.00 cm Width 104.00 cm, Year 2024
Epheas Maposa, Wide Awake Again, PRESENTED BY – Village Unhu, Medium Oil on Canvas, Height 90.00 cm Width 75.00 cm, Year 2024

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