Established in 1956, Clarke’s Bookshop in Cape Town, South Africa, is one of the oldest surviving independent bookshops in the country. Initially a general second-hand bookshop, it grew to focus on South African titles, with a unique collection of rare, out-of-print, and African books. The Art Momentum spoke with André Sales, bookseller at Clarke’s, on the occasion of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair (ICTAF) 2020 to discuss the role of art books and their involvement at ICTAF.
The Art Momentum: How did Clarke’s get involved with the ICTAF?
André Sales: One of the shared interests that Henrietta Dax, the owner, and I have (besides books!) is South African art. I think it is our responsibility to get everything that is published in South Africa or abroad, on South African art and art from the rest of Africa. Henrietta started going to the Johannesburg Art Fair about 12 years ago, so when the ICTAF started we got involved with a book stand pretty quickly. Because there isn’t really a bookshop in Cape Town that focuses exclusively on art, we also try to bring in a lot of international art books.
TAM: I know this is a difficult question, but can you name one art book that stands out for you from your extensive rare and out-of-print collection? Why does this book come to mind?
A. S.: One of my favourite books, which we try to always have in stock, is a photography book, Ernest Cole’s House of Bondage. It was published in 1967 in the UK and the US, but was banned here in South Africa. It was such an important book at the time because it revealed the realities of apartheid through his photography. Formally, Cole’s artistic vision and the quality of the photographs, especially how they were printed, have really stood the test of time well.
TAM: Do you do the work of archiving books like these too?
A. S.: We don’t have an archive, but we supply a lot of libraries and institutions with books. We [also] try very hard to get catalogues of all the exhibitions that happen, especially in Cape Town, by visiting all the galleries whenever there is a new exhibition so we can get whatever is published. One of our customers is the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, USA. We gather ephemera, and, when a box is full, we send it to them and they do the extraordinary work of archiving it so that people can access it all.
TAM: It seems that there is quite a bit of crossover then, between the bookshop and the art world. What do you think art books might be able to do for audiences that an exhibition alone may not?
A. S.: I think that publications, no matter what they are, even a small exhibition catalogue or a zine, work in a way to legitimise the artist that’s on display. What I mean is that they give audiences a way to explore an artwork in depth and beyond the gallery space. There is a lot to be said about the way that reading about art can make you understand more when you are seeing it.
An article by Chiedza Pasipanodya
Featured image : Clarke’s Bookstore, interior. Photograph by and courtesy of André Sales.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | Cape Town Art Fair Artpaper 2020.
Articles are published in their original language | Les articles sont publiés dans leur langue d’origine