Destination Johannesburg: Art Curator Lucy MacGarry

Interviews | 4th Oct 2017

We talk to leading art curator Lucy MacGarry about art, fashion and her favourite spots in Johannesburg. Born and bred in Johannesburg, Lucy has twice curated the Joburg Art Fair and is currently curating the South African Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. We met Lucy at her family home Shepstone Gardens, recently opened to the public for private events.

Tell us about yourself? Have you always been passionate about art?
Yes; I’ve always wanted to find a way to combine the arts with business. I think curatorship brings those together in a nice way.

You also have a fashion brand, L’MAD Collection?
I wanted to find a way to give artists another avenue to express themselves. I collaborate with a designer called Lisa Jaffe of GUILLOTINE, she’s been in the industry for about 15 years and she’s a fantastic pattern maker and designer. L’MAD commissions local artists to do projects that are special for the collections. This scarf is Ben Johnson [pictured] – we did a range of beautiful scarves and kimonos together and people just really loved it.

And you’re opening a L’MAD GUILLOTINE store here at Shepstone Gardens?
Yes, a boutique that brings L’MAD and GUILLOTINE together to offer South African artist-inspired garments and a bespoke tailoring service.

What’s it like to be in midst of such a thriving art scene?
Joburg is quite quickly being defined as an art city – it’s fantastic. Over the years it’s just amazing how many galleries have sprung up and taken to the international art market, participating in fairs like Frieze and ArtBasel. Johannesburg is very much on the international playing field now.

Would you say there are smaller names making it in the art industry?
Yes absolutely. There are so many emerging artists. Our market here is defined by two fairs: the Cape Town Art Fair and the Joburg Art Fair. They’re very important for emerging talent.

What makes the art galleries in Johannesburg unique?
I think it’s the type of work visitors are exposed to. A lot of our artwork is quite socio-political in its slant, so as a result, it’s very unique and very powerful. That’s what differentiates the art experience for people.

Is there a piece of art that you feel captures the essence of the city?
In 2009, William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx were commissioned to make a public sculpture for the City of Johannesburg. The sculpture is based on a drawing by Kentridge of a woman street vendor – known colloquially as a fire walker – carrying a burning brazier on her head. The eleven-metre-high figure stands proudly at the foot of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge.

What South African artists would you recommend art lovers to seek out?
There are so many! There’s an emerging artist called Buhlebezwe Siwani. She started an artist collaborative called iQhiya; it’s this group of young girls that cross boundaries between more traditional work and performative, protest art. There’s also a Johannesburg artist called Lady Skollie. An intensely feminist artist, she is passionate about defying taboos and talking openly about issues.

You’re curating the South African Pavilion at the Venice Biennial this year, can you tell us a little about what you’re presenting to the world?
We’re presenting only two artists: Mohau Modisakeng and Candice Breitz. They both create incredible film and photography work, and in the exhibition, they’re looking at the global refugee crisis. It’s a fully immersive film installation that explores the disruptive power of storytelling in relation to historical and contemporary waves of forced migration.

Street art is popular in Johannesburg – where’s best to see it?
Maboneng
has made a concerted effort to bring street art into the fabric of their neighbourhood. They’ve commissioned a few artists to do works in the area, so it’s a great place to see lots of large-scale work integrated into the fabric of the public spaces.

How would spend 48 hours in Johannesburg?
There’s a lovely place called 44 Stanley, where I would go for breakfast. There are really great local designers there, like Black Coffee. I’d do the gallery strip on Jan Smuts Avenue in the afternoon and then go for a drink at Marble in the Keyes Art Mile. The next day, I would go to Nirox Sculpture Park, which is an expansive outdoor experience close to the city.

Where would go for a dose of culture in Johannesburg?
The Market Theatre in Newtown; we have some incredible local theatre. It’s great to catch something live.

Where would you take out-of-town friends for a drink?
The bar at MESH.

We often overlook what’s on our doorstep. Is there something you still need to do in Johannesburg?
I haven’t done a night out in Soweto – I’m sure I would have the most amazing evening.

Three words to describe Johannesburg?
On fast forward.


The South African Pavilion at Venice Biennial 2017 takes place at Sale D’Armi Arsenale, from 13th May to 26th November.


The Saxon is on hand to arrange art and gallery tours for guests. For more information, discover our guide to art and galleries in Johannesburg.


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