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Michael MacGarry

By Sue Williamson
Michael MacGarry: Winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art

Michael MacGarry
Michael MacGarry: Winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art, 2010. .

Part of the irreverent young artist trio Avant Car Guard, Michael MacGarry's work first came to public attention in the late 1990s. From his early theoretical polemics to their practical expression in sculpture, video and photography, MacGarry's work offers a wry meditation on Africa's contemporary history, and the complicity of art in its systems of knowledge and (commercial) exchange.


Anyone noting for the first time the name of Michael MacGarry's website,, might speculate that the artist must be a brave man indeed to lay himself open to caustic comments from art critics with this name. But at the time that MacGarry registered it, he was attempting to work as an individual artist in a purely theoretical way, posting on his site treatments of films which he never intended to produce, concepts and ideas for work which would not be made. At the same time, he was participating in group projects as a member of the young artist trio Avant Car Guard and it was as a member of Avant Car Guard that MacGarry first came to public notice in the late 1990s. In recent years, MacGarry has abandoned his purely theoretical approach, finding it no longer served his purpose, and has started making solid objects and two dimensional prints with ferocious energy.

The earlier film treatments and unrealised ideas from his theoretical years now provided the impetus for the artist to assemble found objects culled from craft markets, online marketing sites and the hardware store to produce hybridic sculptures, large scale photographic works and editioned bronzes. Conceptually, this work comments on the contemporary history of Africa, questioning the true motives behind those who come to this country from afar, often bearing gifts and lavish developmental promises.

Often carrying with them the faint scent of the fetish object, the acquisition of these works seem to promise to the new owner the accrual of the power of a multilayered past rife with bloody struggle and cultural riches.


'My work investigates the ongoing ramifications of imperialism on the African continent, coupled with the analysis and parody of the socio-political and economic role of political elites within this context as well as the increasingly complicated dynamics attendant on the extraction of natural resources – particularly oil – in African nation-states post-independence'.

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'In one fell swoop, MacGarry kills the illusion of the real, the mystery of art making and meaning whlist exposing power relations and the centrality of commerce in the production of art and war alike - all with a wry sense of humour.'  - Cara Snyman, Jozi/Weekly, August 2008.

'On one level it is easy to get MacGarry wrong ... but ... it is the evidence of MacGarry's careful hand that ultimately redeems his cleverness from mere posturing' -  Sean O' Toole,  Enjin No 45, October 2008.


MacGarry has carried off one of the major art accolades of the coming year in being named winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award 2010 (Visual Art). This award is given to the under-40 artist considered the best in the country, and earns a solo show at the National Festival of the Arts in Grahamstown in July - a show which then travels the country. This exhibition will be titled 'End Game'.


in 2009, MacGarry was a finalist in the MTN New Contemporaries Award exhibition, showing a selection of rather different works which gave an insight into the artist's varied concerns. Zhou Enlai and the Scramble for Africa was a tableau of a life sized mannequin, arms hanging aimlessly at his sides while an AK47 slung across his chest pointed at who knows what. A parachute indicates his mode of arrival onto the scene. His face is an African mask, purchased by MacGarry and recarved and painted to look vaguely Chinese. The wonderfully comic piece reflected MacGarry's concern with the massive increase in influence of China in Africa.

The Tipp-Ex Politics series featured six white objects/sculptures which looked somewhat like candles which have stood for too many years in some dusty bar in holders which had become layered in petrified and fossilized wax - or perhaps the sculptures were penises which had ejected every drop of sperm and were now totally useless. Each sculpture carried the name of a president from the apartheid era. The Tipp-Ex which coated the works suggested, perhaps, the attempted erasure of the past.


In July 2008, MacGarry had his first  solo exhibition at Art Extra Johannesburg (later to become the Brodie/Stephenson Gallery). This show was titled 'When enough people start saying the same thing', and, said MacGarry, 'functions as a binary definition of the tipping point in power dynamics as a means to effect broad-based political will in both democratic societies as well as fascist regimes'. The show featured a number of MacGarry's fetish gun pieces - wooden AK47s studded with nails. An image of one of these was used by the Johannesburg Art Fair in 2009 as an overarching symbol.


Michael MacGarry's irreverent work first drew public attention when, as a member of the trio Avant Car Guard, the three documented a project in which they 'buried' Kendell Geers - the mid career artist now living in Belgium whose international art world success is most envied by the rising generation of young male artists. Added to the engraved name  KENDELL GEERS on the headstone of the grave were the initials J.H.P. - the initials of Pierneef, the painter of vast empty landscapes most admired in apartheid South Africa. Geers'  birth and death dates were set at 1967 (Geers' chosen birth date) and 1988 - the year of the project. Thus the three cleared the ground, as it were, for what they hoped to be their own rise to fame.

This emphasis on the importance - or otherwise - of theory was reiterated further when he and the two other members of the artist group Avant Car Guard, Jan Henri Booysens and Zander Blom, dressed in rigidly uncomfortable suits of paper pages to pose for the piece Protected by Theory (2008).


A solo exhibition at Brodie/Stevenson titled 'This is Your World in Which We Grow and We Will Grow to Hate You'  opening 18 February 2010, and focused primarily on the growing role of crude oil extraction in sub-Saharan Africa.


Michael MacGarry was born in Durban in 1978.  He lives and works in Johannesburg and Cape Town.


2008 'When enough people start saying the same thing' - Brodie/Stevenson, Johannesburg.

2008 'True/Story' - KZNSA Gallery, Durban

2008  Book launch  - A Primer in South African Graphic Design by Michael MacGarry
180 page monograph on South African graphic design written, designed and illustrated by Michael MacGarry – published by David Krut Publishing.

2004  'Or Until the World Improves' - The Premises Gallery, Johannesburg


2009 'A Life Less Ordinary'  - Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham, U.K.

2009  Brodie/Stevenson booth at the Joburg Art Fair, Sandton Convention Centre

2009  'Not-Self' -  Brodie/Stevenson, Johannesburg

2009  'Why Not?' -Kuckei Kuckei, Berlin

2008   'Artist's Books' - Brodie/Stevenson, Johannesburg

2008   'Performing South Africa' -a festival of South African video art and
            performance at the Hebbel am Ufer Theatre Complex – Berlin

2008    MTN New Contemporaries Awards 2008 - University of Johannesburg Arts Centre

2008    'The New Spell' - DK Projects – New York
2008     Brodie/Stevenson booth at the Joburg Art Fair -Sandton Convention Centre

2008     '6x6' - Group exhibition of the Society of Photographers at Rooke Gallery, Johannesburg

2008     'The Trickster' - Brodie/Stevenson, Johannesburg

2008      'Impossible Monsters' - Brodie/Stevenson, Johannesburg


2008 - 'Drawing Show' - a group exhibition of commissioned artworks by eleven
            leading South African graphic designers and illustrators – curated by Michael 
            MacGarry - DK Projects, Johannesburg, October 2008


2004   Masters Degree in Fine Arts (Distinction) - University of the Witwatersrand.

2000   BFA (Hons), Cum Laude, Technikon Natal


2010   Winner – Standard Bank Young Artist Award (Visual Art)
2010   Finalist – South Design Awards
2010   Finalist – Leorie Awards (Print Media)
2009   Finalist – MTN New Contemporaries Award


Douglas, A. (Ed.), A Life Less Ordinary – Performance and Display in South African Art, Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham, U.K., 2009.
Williamson, Sue, South African Art Now, HarperCollins, New York, 2009.
Self/ Not Self, Brodie/Stevenson, Johannesburg, 2009.
Joburg Art Fair Catalogue, Art Logic, Johannesburg, 2009.
MacGarry, Michael, Skill Set One – Graphic Design, David Krut Publishing, Johannesburg, 2008.
Joburg Art Fair Catalogue, Art Logic, Johannesburg, 2008.
When Enough People Start Saying the Same Thing, Art Extra & All Theory. No Practice, Johannesburg, 2008.
MTN New Contemporaries, MTN Art Foundation, Johannesburg, 2008.
The New Spell, curated by Lucy Rayner at David Krut Projects, New York; David Krut Publishing, Johannesburg, 2008.
One Small Seed, Cape Town, August 2008, pp. 106-110.
Enjin, Undo Media, Johannesburg, 2008, pp. 12-15.
Art South Africa, Bell-Roberts Publishing, Cape Town, Winter 2008, p. 96.
Art South Africa, Bell-Roberts Publishing, Cape Town, Autumn 2008, pp. 78-79.
Design Indaba, Interactive Africa, Cape Town, October 2008, pp. 68-71.
Design Indaba, Interactive Africa, Cape Town, January 2008, pp. 44-48.
MacGarry, Michael, Buildings & Other Pastures, All Theory. No Practice, Johannesburg, 2006.
MacGarry, Michael, The Economy of Modernity, All Theory. No Practice, Johannesburg, 2005.
MacGarry, Michael, Or Until the World Improves, All Theory. No Practice, Johannesburg, 2005.
Design Indaba, Interactive Africa, Cape Town, October 2004, pp. 24-27.
MacGarry, Michael, Modern Amusement, All Theory. No Practice, Johannesburg, 2004.