Out of The Cube

artthrob artbio

Candice Breitz

By Michael Smith
Extra #14

Candice Breitz
Extra #14, 2011. Chromogenic print 56 x 84cm.


The career of Candice Breitz reveals a preoccupation with a few major themes: celebrity and the social function of a 'star system' of glamour and aspiration is one of these; the notion of whiteness within a rapidly altering South African social context is another.

Breitz first came to prominence in the early 1990s in South Africa, making work that was Dada-like in its deployment of readymade images. She reworked old movie posters, pornographic images and, most controversially, photographs culled from National Geographic magazines and tourist postcards. The latter caused something of a flutter as Breitz, along with a number of other South African artists, was criticised by Okwui Enwezor, Olu Oguibe and Kendell Geers in essays questioning the right of white women artists to use the black female body in their work.

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Yet allegations that Breitz was perpetuating a racist and patriarchal agenda now seem ludicrous in the context of her output over nearly two decades. Her abiding concern seems to be with upending hegemonies of representation and characterisation, and questioning rather than propping up received modes of socialization.

Breitz is a tenured Professor of Fine Art at the Braunshweig University of Art in Berlin, and has lived and worked abroad for many years. A scholarship to study in the USA took her out of South Africa in the early nineties, and she later settled in Berlin. The appearance of her work on shows like 'Taking Liberties: The Body Politic' in Johannesburg and 'Graft' in Cape Town as part of the 1995 and 1997 Johannesburg Biennales respectively brought her to the attention of the global art scene. She soon began building her career with appearances on major international exhibitions as early as 1998, and has exhibited on innumerable important shows across the globe since then.

Much of Breitz’s work is made as video installations. Major works Mother + Father (2005), Factum (2010) and Extra (2011) all formed part of her exhibition 'Extra!' in 2012 at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg (the show later traveled to the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town). They reveal diverse yet interweaving concerns. Mother + Father is a study of the trials of parenthood as figured in Hollywood movies, de- and recontextualised by Breitz's digital appropriation of them. The Sonnabend Gallery in New York, which first showed the 12-screen, two-part work, stated at the time, 'six Hollywood actresses passionately perform the rites of motherhood (Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep)', while a second set of 6 screens showed 'six equally recognizable actors... Tony Danza, Dustin Hoffman, Harvey Keitel, Steve Martin, Donald Sutherland and Jon Voight... go[ing] through the motions of fatherhood'. The implications of the work were complex and incisive: 'Breitz offers us parenthood as a metaphor for the relationship between the star and the fan, inviting us to reflect on the formative role that the media increasingly plays in our lives.'

In the Rauschenberg-referencing Factum, Breitz explores the notion of identity through that most uncanny pair of beings, identical twins. Layering her meaning through the titular borrowing of Rauschenberg's Factum I and II (in which the American artist attempted to reproduce one of his own paintings verbatim) Breitz relocates the very Pop notion of reproduction and compromised authenticity onto the human body and character. Numerous pairs of identical twins are interviewed separately, with each speaking on their own screen alongside that of the other. As the interviews progress, the differences between the two initially identical persons emerges.

Another thread running through Breitz’s oeuvre is the notion of fandom and emulation. Especially compelling is the work Becoming (2003), in which Breitz’s own image is paired with that of a number of archetypal Hollywood heroines, played by Meg Ryan, Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz, amongst others. In these video diptychs Breitz, dressed in a prim, white collared shirt and always appearing on the right-hand screen of each pair, reenacts the dialogue played out on the left screen original. Frequently comical, as Breitz adopts the facial expressions and vocal cadences of the protagonists (all concerned with aspects of male-female romantic relationships), the work is nonetheless a savvy and chilling study of a culture that increasingly views bland emulation as a satisfactory mode of participation.

More humorous but no less insightful is 2000’s Karaoke, in which ten video monitors set on a circle of plinths and facing inwards play footage of karaoke performers singing Roberta Flack’s 1973 #1 hit Killing Me Softly  With His Song. The song title becomes all the more relevant as one realises that the footage is intentionally un-synched, and that each person is at a different stage of the track. The cacophonic garble is an assault on the ears, as Breitz seems to suggest the futility of emulation, the earnest deliveries of the singers almost satirizing themselves. One strains to recognise the melody or a few words together, presumably as one strains to find one’s own voice in the unilateral flow of mass media culture.

In the more recent Extra, Breitz has inserted her own body into the narrative of South Africa's most-watched soap opera, Generations. Rather than disrupt the broadcast version of the television show, Breitz agreed with producer Mfundi Vundla that, after the actors had performed their scenes for the final edit of the show intended for broadcast , they would re-run the scenes with Breitz inserting herself as an extra. The result is a video and a series of still shots in which the artist does not actually engage with the characters or the narrative flow: rather, her body exists inexplicably and rather incongruously amidst the action: sitting on a desk unnoticed by the meeting of office workers all around her; crawling across the floor of a lavish office while two characters flirt; lying on an apartment floor while a character conducts an emotional phone call; and perched oddly on a sideboard while two characters kiss passionately on the couch in the foreground.

In February 2012, South African publication Classic Feel magazine quoted Breitz as saying about Extra, 'It occurred to me that any work I made in the South African context would have to acknowledge the awkwardness of coming back after a long period of time... Inserting myself into the microcosm that is Generations seemed like a productive way to allegorically explore my insider-outsider status... As such, there is no easily apparent explanation for my existence within any of the scenes. The challenge as I saw it, was to play the role of an absent presence or a present absence, an extra who is at the same time a very visible and pale sore thumb, a glaringly white question mark.'


'I am interested in deploying the art work as a catalyst, one which momentarily freeze-frames problematic ways of making meaning, and renders them strange. My interest lies not in censoring the desires inspired by the commodity (be that commodity a hipper-than-thou consumer trademark or a cheaply printed centrefold), but in recasting them so as to expose their logic, and, in certain cases, to push their boundaries.' (Original ArtThrob ARTBIO, 1998)

'My own sense is that it is necessary to somehow acknowledge within one’s practice, the degree to which resistance to the merging of the realms of art and the culture industry is naïve, if not futile… At the same time, it is neither necessary nor desirable to celebrate this increasingly inevitable merger.' (Interview with David Junt in FlashArt, March 2000)


Breitz’s retrospective ‘Extra!’ at The Standard Bank Gallery between February and April 2012 has brought major works of hers to South African viewers for the first time on home turf. What made the event notable is that the Standard Bank commissioned the production of her 2011 work, Extra. The work subtly extrapolates white citizens’ increasing shift to the periphery of a future South Africa. On the set of popular soap opera Generations, which itself has seen a shift away from employing white actors limited in African language use, Breitz made herself ‘a pale sore thumb, a glaringly white question mark’ (Classic Feel: February 2012).


Breitz participated in ‘Afro-Modernism: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic’ in 2010 at the Tate Modern in London. Critic Bonnie Greer wrote in a review for Times Online, ‘The South African contemporary artist Candice Breitz looks at the black world in her native land with neither fear nor apology, but renders it as she sees it. In Ghost Series #1 and #4 (1994-96) the white face-masks overlaid on black figures remind us of the dual nature of colour — there are cultures in which white can also mean death.’

In 2009 curators Kathryn Smith and Roger van Wyk selected work by Breitz as part of ‘Dada South?’ in Cape Town. The exhibition considered the legacy of socially critical and experimental art in South Africa, and explored the Dada impulses of anti-art, aesthetic rebellion and appropriation.


Breitz has had numerous solo shows at prestigious galleries, most notably the White Cube in London and the Sonnabend Gallery in New York. In 2005, Richard Dorment, writing in The Telegraph, called Mother + Father ‘the surprise hit of this year's Venice Biennale.’ He went on to praise the showing of the work at White Cube the same year, saying ‘Breitz relies on the fact that Hollywood film is a universal language. She knows that most of the audience, whatever their nationality or whatever language they speak, will be familiar with these movies. Had she used obscure arthouse films, the work wouldn't be nearly as witty or half as much fun.’

Sunday Telegraph reviewer Andrew Graham-Dixon called the same work ‘the product of an inspired and painstaking act of video piracy… Even when this scintillatingly odd artificial conversation descends into cacophonies of anguish, as it regularly does, the result is a cadenced and patterned form of visual and auditory chaos. Its structure resembles that of a fugue, played out in the mannerisms of the method actor’s simulations of raw human feeling.’

In the same year Breitz showed at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York. Venerable critic Roberta Smith  wrote in the New York Times of the work Queen (Portrait of Madonna), ‘At certain points during Like a Prayer, their spontaneous, isolated efforts coalesce into something altogether marvellous that could probably have been achieved only through Ms. Breitz's savvy combination of rigor, randomness and advanced technology.'


Breitz completed her BA(FA) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) in 1993, and has subsequently received an MA degree from the University of Chicago (1995) and an MPhil degree from Columbia University (1997). Breitz participated in the studio division of the Whitney Museum's Independent Studies Program during 1996-97.

Biographical Information

Born in Johannesburg, 1972.

Professor of Fine Art at the Braunschweig University of Art since 2007.


1998 - 2002 Doctoral Candidate in Art History - Columbia University (New York)

1997 Whitney Independent Studio Program – Whitney Museum (New York)

1997 M.Phil. Art History - Columbia University (New York)

1995 M.A. Art History – University of Chicago (Chicago)

1993 B.A. (Fine Arts) - University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg)

Solo Exhibitions

2010 Kunsthaus Bregenz (Bregenz)

Espoo Museum of Modern Art (Espoo)

White Cube (London)

STUK Leuven (Leuven)

2009 Yvon Lambert (New York)

The Power Plant (Toronto)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco)

Art Center Kabuso (Hardangerfjord)

Blank Projects (Cape Town)

Riksutställningar - Swedish Traveling Exhibitions (various places)

2008 Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk)

Collection Lambert en Avignon (Avignon)

Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Luxembourg)

Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin (Berlin)

BFI Southbank (London)

2007 MUSAC – Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (León)

White Cube (London)

Prix International d’Art Contemporain 2007 (Monaco)

Vox Contemporary Image (Montréal)

2006 Konstmuseum Uppsala (Uppsala)

Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead)

Hellenic American Union (Athens)

Kukje Gallery (Seoul)

Bawag Foundation (Vienna)

2005 Castello di Rivoli (Turin)

Palais de Tokyo (Paris)

White Cube (London)

Sonnabend Gallery (New York)

Edith-Russ-Haus für Medienkunst (Oldenburg)

Mercer Union, A Centre for Contemporary Art (Toronto)

Bob Marley Museum (Kingston)

Das Schiff (Basel)

2004 Sonnabend Gallery (New York)

Moderna Museet (Stockholm)

FACT / Foundation for Art & Creative Technology (Liverpool)

Tokyo Wonder Site (Tokyo)

Galleri Roger Björkholmen (Stockholm)

2003 Modern Art Oxford (Oxford)

Galerie Max Hetzler (Berlin)

aspreyjacques (London)

De Beeldbank (Eindhoven)

Goethe Institute (Zagreb)

2002 Artpace San Antonio (Texas)

INOVA Institute of Visual Arts (Milwaukee)

Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin)

Museum Folkwang / RWE-Turm (Essen)

Miami Basel Statements (Miami)

2001 De Appel Foundation (Amsterdam)

O.K Center for Contemporary Art Upper Austria (Linz)

Kunstverein St. Gallen Kunstmuseum (St. Gallen)

Galerie Johnen & Schöttle (Cologne)

Galleri Roger Björkholmen (Stockholm)

Galeria João Graça (Lisbon)

Galleria Francesca Kaufmann (Milan)

2000 Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève (Geneva)

New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York)

Galerie Art + Public (Geneva)

Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle (Munich)

Galleria Francesca Kaufmann (Milan)

Chicago Project Room (Chicago)

Künstlerhaus Schloss Wiepersdorf (Wiepersdorf)

1999 Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle (Munich)

Galleri Roger Björkholmen (Stockholm)

1998 Galerie Johnen & Schöttle (Cologne)

Sala Mendoza (Caracas)

Chicago Project Room (Chicago)

Galleri Roger Björkholmen (Stockholm)

1997 Craig Krull Gallery (Los Angeles)

Silverstein Gallery (New York)

Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle (Munich)

1996 The Space Gallery - The Rainbow Show (Johannesburg)

1995 Cochrane Woods Art Center - Tourist Works (Chicago)

1994 Institute of Contemporary Art - Serial Corpses (Johannesburg)

Selected Group Exhibitions

2010 Tate Liverpool – Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic – Liverpool 

ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum – I Love You – Aarhus

Gwangju Museum of Art – The Flower of May – Gwangju

Edith Russ Medienhaus – Culture(s) of Copy – Oldenburg

Iziko South African National Gallery – 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective – Cape Town

Goodman Gallery – In Context – Johannesburg 

2009 Sundance Film Festival – New Frontier – Park City

Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art – What a Wonderful World – Sweden

Museum of Fine Arts Boston – Contemporary Outlook: Seeing Songs – Boston

Performa – Performa 09 – New York

26th Kassel Documentary, Film and Video Festival – Monitoring – Kassel

Galleria Francesca Kaufmann – The Rustle of Language – Milan

Iziko South African National Gallery – Dada South? – Cape Town

2008 Contemporary Arts Center – American Idyll: Contemporary Art and Karaoke – Cincinnati

The Hayward / Southbank Centre – Laughing in a Foreign Language – London

Michael Stevenson Gallery – Disguise – Cape Town

The New Orleans Biennale – Prospect.1 New Orleans – New Orleans

Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden – The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality, and the Moving Image

– Washington, D.C.

MU Eindhoven – Popshop: Remixing Icons of Mass Culture – Eindhoven

The Irish Museum of Modern Art – Order. Desire. Light. – Dublin

2007 Museum of Contemporary Art l Denver – Star Power: Museum as Body Electric – Denver

Hamburger Kunsthalle – World Receiver – Hamburg

Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean – The Collection: Aiwa To Zen – Luxembourg

Beijing Centre for Creativity – Seduction: A Theory-Fiction between the Real & the Possible – Beijing

Hangar Bicocca – Collateral: When Art Looks at Cinema – Milan

Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea – Cuestión Xeracional – Santiago de Compostela

Malmö Festival – Unclassifiable – Malmö

Kunsthalle Dominikanerkirche – European Media Art Festival 2007: Final Cut – Osnabrück

2006 Mori Art Museum - Tokyo-Berlin / Berlin-Tokyo – Tokyo

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art - Sip My Ocean - Humlebæk, Denmark

Neue Nationalgalerie - Berlin-Tokio / Tokio-Berlin – Berlin

Kunsthalle Mannheim - Full House: Faces of a Collection – Mannheim

Belgrade Biennial - Art, Life & Confusion / 47th October Salon – Belgrade

Mary Boone Gallery – Hiding in the Light – New York

Haus am Waldsee - Anstoß Berlin, Kunst macht Welt – Berlin

Miami Beach Cinematheque – Giving Visibility - Miami

Oper Leipzig - Eine Frage (nach) der Geste – Leipzig

NRW Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft – Crossing the Screen - Düsseldorf

Akademie der Künste - sonambiente 2006 - Berlin

Curzon Soho Cinema - International Exhibitionist Screening - London

Kunstraum Niederösterreich - Klartext Berlin - Vienna

2005 51. Biennale di Venezia – The Experience of Art – Venice

Kunsthalle Wien - Superstars - Vienna

Zwirner + Wirth Gallery – Girls on Film – New York

Castello di Rivoli - From the Electronic Eye. Works from the Video Collection – Turin

Palazzo delle Papesse - Guardami. Percezione del Video – Siena

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León – Fusion – León

Le Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne - Collection Pierre Huber – Lausanne

Museum der Weltkulturen – Africa Screams – Frankfurt am Main

22nd Kassel Documentary, Film and Video Festival – Kassel

2004 Kunsthalle Wien – Africa Screams – Vienna

Queensland Art Gallery - Video Hits – Brisbane

The Bronx Museum of the Arts - Music/Video – New York

Museum of Contemporary Art – CUT: Film as Found Object – North Miami

João Ferreira Gallery – Visions of Paradise - Cape Town

Albany History Museum - Through the Looking Glass - Grahamstown, South Africa

O.K Center for Contemporary Art - Open House: Art and the Public Sphere – Linz

Klein Karoo National Arts Festival – Democracy and Change – Oudtshoorn, South Africa

Carleton University Art Gallery - Prototype: Contemporary Art from Joe Friday’s Collection - Ottawa

Kunsthalle Wien – 100 Handlungsanweisungen – Vienna

2003 Kunsthalle Nürnberg - fuckin' trendy: Mode in der zeitgenössischen Kunst – Nürnberg

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery - Extended Play: Art Remixing Music – New Plymouth, New Zealand

Museum of Modern Art Dubrovnik – Brightness: Works from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary

Art Foundation – Dubrovnik

Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art – Against All Evens – Sweden

Kunstmuseum St. Gallen – Striptease: Vom Verschleiern + Enthüllen in der Kunst – St. Gallen

Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea – Looks of Complicity – Santiago de Compostela

Cité des Arts - Fins des Histoires? Une traversée plurielle – Chambéry, France

2002 Tate Liverpool - Remix: Contemporary Art and Pop – Liverpool

Castello di Rivoli – Arte in Video – Rivoli

National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo - Continuity + Transgression – Tokyo

Hamburger Kunsthalle - Schrägspur – Hamburg

Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain - Vidéo Topiques – Strasbourg

Art Tower Mito Contemporary Art Center - Screen Memories – Tokyo 

Klein Karoo National Arts Festival – Sublimation – Oudtshoorn, South Africa

2001 Kunsthalle Wien - Tele[Visions] – Vienna

Hamburger Kunsthalle - Monet’s Legacy. Series: Order and Obsession – Hamburg 

18th Kassel Documentary, Film and Video Festival – Kassel

2000 Taipei Biennale 2000 - The Sky is the Limit! – Taipei

Kwangju Biennale Korea 2000 - Man + Space – Kwangju

ZKM - The Anagrammatical Body – Karlsruhe

Kunstverein München - The Wounded Diva – Munich

João Ferreira Gallery - One-Night Stand - Cape Town

White Columns - 30th Anniversary Benefit - New York

Bard Center for Curatorial Studies - Translations - New York

Akademie Wien - Day Against Racial Discrimination - Vienna

1999 6th International Istanbul Biennial - The Passion and the Wave – Istanbul

Museum Ludwig Köln - Global Art 2000 – Cologne

1998 XXIV Bienal de São Paulo - Roteiros, Roteiros, Roteiros… - São Paulo

Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno - Transatlantico - Canary Islands

1997 P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center - Heaven: A Private View - New York

Johannesburg Biennale - Graft - Cape Town

Espacio 204 – Tran:sonic - Caracas

1996 Thread Waxing Space - Romper Room - New York

Neue Galerie Graz in Reininghaus - Inklusion/Exklusion – Graz

Kunstforeningen – Interzones – Copenhagen

The Space Gallery - Group Exhibition – Johannesburg

1995 Africana Museum - Black Looks/White Myths – Johannesburg

Johannesburg Biennale - Taking Liberties/The Body Politic – Johannesburg

Residencies / Stipends

2006 Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead)

2005 Cité Internationale des Arts (Paris)

2003 IASPIS International Artists' Studio Program (Stockholm)

2002 Künstlerhaus Bethanien International Artists in Residency Program (Berlin)

2002 ArtPace International Artist-in-Residence Program (San Antonio)

2001 O.K Center for Contemporary Art Upper Austria (Linz)

2000 Künstlerhaus Schloss Wiepersdorf (Wiepersdorf)


2007 Prix International d’Art Contemporain l Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco

Selected Public Collections:

Hamburger Kunsthalle (Hamburg, Germany)

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art (New York, USA)

National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, Canada)

FNAC - Fonds national d’art contemporain (Puteaux, France)

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, USA)

Castello di Rivoli (Turin, Italy)

Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (St. Gallen, Switzlerland)

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk, Denmark)

Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Luxembourg)

MUSAC - Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (León, Spain)

Institut d'art Contemporain - Collection Frac Rhone-Alpes (Lyon, France)

Milwaukee Art Museum (Milwaukee, USA)

The Henry Art Gallery (Seattle, USA)

Kunstmuseum Lichtenstein (Vaduz, Lichtenstein)

Collezione La Gaia / Villa Manin Center for Contemporary Art (Codroipo, Italy)

ARCO Foundation Collection (Madrid, Spain)

MONA - The Museum of Old and New Art (Tasmania, Australia)

QAG - Queensland Art Gallery (Brisbane, Australia)

SFMOMA - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, USA)

AGO - Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, Canada)

MFA - Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, USA)

MAXXI - Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (Rome, Italy)

Institut fuer Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. (Stuttgart, Germany)

Kunsthaus Bregenz (Bregenz, Austria)