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If you wanted to discover the best in African contemporary art - from the comfort of your own home - what would you do? Where (online) would you go? Until recently, these questions represented a real challenge faced by art lovers who may have been curious about African art but lacked an entry point to this vast - and growing - field. The African art market is booming, and global interest in African art has never been greater.
Enter Latitudes. In August 2020 this plucky South African startup, which began as a conventional art fair in 2019, launched Latitudes Online, the world’s first online marketplace dedicated to contemporary African art.
Latitudes Online is a platform for African galleries, independent artists and curators to present artworks and related information to a global audience. Inspired by the growing popularity of online marketplaces for contemporary art, such as the enormously successful artsy.net, Latitudes offers visitors a curated survey of art on the continent. Artists, galleries and curators have to apply to show their work on the platform, a barrier to entry that ensures that exhibitors have a genuine connection to Africa and are presenting high quality art.
Although Latitudes Online more closely resembles other online marketplaces (like Artsy) than an art fair, it originated as a response to shifts in the art fair landscape as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Williams Chechet, Hypebeast II, 2020, Limited Edition Archival Giclee Print, 139.7 x 101.6 cm.
In 2020 the pandemic forced the art world online, and this was felt nowhere more acutely than in the art fair sector. In place of the hundreds of art fairs that take place in cities around the world every year, 2020’s would-be art fair visitors were the target of a seemingly endless stream of timed online art sales.
These online fairs all take pretty much the same form: for a period of around two weeks, a roster of participating galleries present virtual “booths”, or online viewing rooms, which visitors browse via the website of the hosting fair. It’s a model that thrived on its novelty in the beginning, but soon viewers - like everyone else during lockdown - became fatigued with the format.
The Latitudes founding team, who were scheduled to host the second edition of their physical art fair in September 2020, didn’t want to send another online art fair out into an already saturated market, and so they pivoted.
If you’re looking to buy art, Latitudes Online makes it possible to buy directly from artists, a system that sidesteps galleries as the conventional gatekeepers of the art world, but also empowers artists who don’t have gallery representation to participate in the market. And if you’re not looking to buy art, Latitudes Online is an excellent information resource, an access point to a rapidly expanding segment of the international contemporary art scene.
With transparent pricing, a content offering that punches far above its weight, and a flexible structure for vendors to present online exhibitions, Latitudes Online shares some of the most important qualities of successful international online marketplaces for art. With all this going for it, it’s only a matter of time before Latitudes Online becomes the world’s go-to destination for African contemporary art.
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