I remember with great fondness Hazel Friedman's Mail & Guardian
reviews from the mid to late 1990s. What particularly engaged me was her willingness to say exactly what she thought in response to what she had seen, an easy enough trick that not many reviewers always respect. One aspect of her writing that proved particularly appealing was her willingness to walk roughshod over the pretensions of Johannesburg's emerging young artists, then mostly centred around the hub of Troyeville. Her opinions reminded me of those of Robert Hughes, the respected Australian critic who went on to conquer New York. I still regard his comments on Jean-Michel Basquiat, in 'Requiem for a Featherweight', to be a faultless piece of criticism - one with great relevance to South Africa today. But more to the point: Who are the bona fide art critics in South Africa? Artists? Journalists? Academics? With the declining fortune of sustained reporting on the visual arts in mainstream newspapers and magazines the answer might very well be zealots, those last of the true believers. But things aren't necessarily that grim. There is a lot of writing on art happening in South Africa. This in turn has led to both private and (some) public debate on who is best vested to do the writing, which Andrew Lamprecht capably summarises in his contribution. Adding their voices to the debate are: Sue Williamson, Virginia MacKenny and the two Paul's (Wessels and Edmunds). "It is important to reflect on what the artist was trying to achieve, and to engage with that," is Sue Williamson's sage bit of advice. But will critics and detractors agree?
Next Update: September 1, 2003