With Design Indaba being a regular fixture on Cape Town's spring calendar, and the Cape Town Art Fair now in its second year, it is no surprise that an upscale international design fair has arrived on the scene. The debut of the Guild Design Fair (which runs until 9 March) sets out to emulate the best of the Basel, Miami and Milan offerings, while adding a fresh dose of 'African-ness' to the mix.
With only five commercial galleries participating - among them stalwarts such as Milan's Rossana Orlandi and New York's R & Company (formerly R 20th Century) - it's small, and less than crowded. A selection of non-profit organisations, such as the Danish government-funded Design Network Africa, and London's V&A Museum Maker Library Network, are also present, exploring 'the theme of "making" at an elevated, collectible level,' says the fair's co-founder Trevyn McGowan.
For more than a decade, McGowan and her husband Julian have been well-known trailblazers of high-end African design. Their gallery, Southern Guild, was founded in 2008, and since then, they have focused on producing limited-edition pieces from more than 50 of the country's best designers and artists. 'There is a wealth of talent here. I'm approached often by makers,' says McGowan, who plans to focus in on, rather than expand, her network. Last October, a selection of the gallery's works launched Johannesburg's new Museum of African Design, and the Guild pop-up shop Artisan features smaller limited-edition jewellery, ceramics and accessories, selected by McGowan.
Zesty Meyers, co-founder of R & Company tacked on visits to makers' studios around the country in addition to exhibiting. 'There's a palpable energy here and a big drive for people to find their voice,' he says. 'It feels like South Africa is right on the brink of having its moment.' For participating US designers Jeff Zimmerman and David Wiseman, and Spanish born Nacho Carbonell, whose sculptural playground is a stand out feature of Guild, the opportunity to meet South African designers was new and invigorating. 'There is so much enthusiasm, and enviable studio space,' says Zimmerman.
McGowan plans for Guild to become an annual event. So far, feedback has been largely positive. 'I came not expecting to sell much,' says Orlandi 'but there are many international collectors, beyond the usual crowd. It has been a big surprise.'