20.02.01 How African does art have to be?|
20.02.01 Interview: the curators of 'Juncture'
06.02.01 Obituary for Johannesburg's Market Gallery
06.02.01 Cape Town gallerist heads up Miami art collection
30.01.01 Galleries in jeopardy
30.01.01 Reader's choice for artist of the year
23.01.01 Advances in Printmaking: What is an inkjet, or a giclée, print?
16.01.01 Gambling with Art
16.01.01 New hope for cultural centre for Cape Town
The photograph of Willie Bester with Dogs of War which appeared in the Cape Times.
How African does art have to be?|
Internationally known Cape Town artist Willie Bester withdrew three works intended for exhibition at a function following the recent opening of Parliament when he learned the works had been described by chief ANC party whip Tony Yengeni as 'not African enough', and that one of them, a collage metal sculpture entitled Dogs of War was to have been hidden from the sight of the party guests.
The function was a banquet at the parliamentary club Fernwood, a historic building set in beautiful grounds in the Cape Town suburb of Newlands. Bester had been invited to exhibit the work through the agency of Philp Todres of art consultancy Primart, and would have received a fee of R3 000 for loaning his work. Bester selected three works as being suitable for the event: a tapestry portrait of ex-President Nelson Mandela and two of the metal sculptures which have been the focus of the artist's work for the past few years. One was of Saartjie Baartman, the 19th Century Khoisan woman persuaded by a Dutch colonist to travel through Europe displaying her unusual anatomy, and thus an early symbol of female oppression, and the other was the offending Dogs of War. In this anti-war statement, Bester's metal dogs are constructed from scrap metal and bits of old weaponry.
A story written by Gustav Thiel on Bester's withdrawal from the event ran in the Cape Times on Friday, February 16, under the headline Not African enough, artist told. The headline was somewhat misleading in the use of the word 'told', since Yengeni's remarks had not been intended to be passed on to Bester. In the Times on Friday, Temba Nobathana, Tony Yengeni's personal advisor said Yengeni would not be commenting on the issue. In fact the chief whip moved swiftly to try to repair the damage, and in the Cape Times on Monday, February 19, this letter from Yengeni appeared, neatly sidestepping the issue of what is and what is not African:
"The story by Gustav Thiel regarding my rejection of the sculpture of Mr Willie Bester is unfortunate because it implies that I have cast aspersions both on Mr Bester's art and the artist himself.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In looking for decorative items for the opening of Parliament banquet (and I use the word decorative advisedly) I was looking to create a particular ambience and message. The symbols I was looking for were decorative rather than provocative, seeking to create an atmosphere of optimism for the African Century, with traditional African symbols.
Mr Bester's work is dramatic, provocative and exciting. It is worthy of deep contemplation, and I applaud the issues that his work raises. But in my opinion, it was not in keeping with the atmosphere that we were trying to create for this event, which we, as chief whips, were hosting.
I recognise that Mr Bester makes a significant contribution to the art world, both at home and abroad, and look forward to seeing more of his work."
Commenting on Yengeni's Cape Times letter, Bester said last night that this did not sound so bad, but added humorously, "When I chose the Dogs of War to send, I did not know they (the ANC) were in the middle of an arms scandal. I think perhaps my sculpture was a bit too close to home."
Interview: the curators of 'Juncture' |
Frances Goodman and Robyn Denny talk to Kathryn Smith about their motivations and strategies for curating the British-SA video installation exhibition 'Juncture'. The show is currently on at The Granary in Cape Town and is destined for London's Studio Voltaire in May.
It is seldom that we see the work of young international contemporary artists in South Africa, although our own artists have been showing extensively abroad. Was this a factor in your decision to curate 'Juncture'?
FG: Yes. We thought it was very important to show South African artists alongside international artists in South Africa. South African artists are too often shown in a vacuum in their own country. But for a number of reasons, we thought it was important to show a number of young dynamic artists together instead of the usual suspects - to try and see the scope of what is available out there.
The title 'Juncture' indicates that the exhibition acts as a point of contact or meeting. How important was it to have the artists travel for the show?
FG: Apart from the fact that they had to be there to install their work?! Seriously, in terms of setting up a dialogue, we felt that it was imperative that an actual exchange took place, where artists could meet each other and have a conversation, and become 'real people'. By the same token, South Africa needed to become a 'real place' for the British artists on the show, none of whom had travelled here before.
How did you arrive at your choice of artists for the show?
FG: It was a very long process. We started by looking at artists that we liked, and young artists whose work we'd noticed on various exhibitions. Once we'd found a core group of artists we started a process of mapping where we looked for links between each artist, where conceptual elements of their work met. We found many common points.
RD: Our choice of artists involved a very organic procedure. We started looking almost two years ago at exhibitions and ArtThrob with a broad outline of contemporary artists that excited both of us. As we chose one artist another would be drawn into our choice due to the friction or coherence this conjunction made.
Why the focus on video and installation exclusively?
FG: We didn't have a set criteria when we started working, but most of the work that grabbed us had some kind of audio-visual element to it, which is a reflection of the extent of which new media is being used in art these days.
The common perception is that Johannesburg is the New York of the South African art scene. What motivated your decision to launch the exhibition in Cape Town?
FG: Initially we wanted to show it in both cities, but there were various constraints that made us have to choose one or the other. We found it difficult to find a suitable location in Johannesburg, and we found Cape Town more receptive. Honestly, we just didn't get the support or interest in Johannesburg than we got in Cape Town. And it's interesting, now everyone's asking us to take it to Jo'burg.
RD: The Johannesburg/Cape Town choice was a bit of a battle between Frances and me. My motivation (besides being absolutely in love with this city) was that The Granary was the most exciting exhibition space we would find. Cape Town's city centre is also a much more approachable zone than Jo'burg's (particularly for the foreign artists). Cape Town also draws many foreigners in February and Jo'burg people will fly down to Cape Town at the drop of a hat! I also thought that as Jo'burg got the Biennial so Cape Town deserved 'Juncture'.
Although you did your undergraduate degrees here, you have both been studying in London for the last couple of years. How did this experience affect how you view the South African art scene?
FG: Right from the outset, I was quite surprised at how people viewed my own work, because they always took into account that I am South African and always seemed to think that this influenced the meaning of the work. I was accused of being political when the concerns of my work are not necessarily political. I then noticed that the same thing happened with Robyn. At the same time there were all these shows travelling Europe of 'South African art', where I felt that the work was shown in a very narrow-minded way. People couldn't get past the idea that South African artists could make work that wasn't necessarily only about South Africa.
RD: Being in London gave us the opportunity to see how SA art shown abroad was situated and written about. This often produced in us feelings of frustration at its narrow framing - so we said, "we'd do it this way."
You had a private sponsor for the exhibition. Could you have pulled it off with institutional or government funding (was it even an option)?
FG: We didn't consider looking for it because we managed to secure the funding quite early on in the process, but at the same time we were pleased that we didn't have to have it, because there probably would have been certain restraints that would go along with that. Graham Beck Wines gave us the leeway to conceive of the project without any prescriptions.
RD: Having a private sponsor gave us much more freedom that an institutional one. Councils and Arts Boards (although necessary) have many restrictions. We were extraordinarily lucky that Graham Beck's only intervention was huge encouragement.
Do you have any expectations with respect to audience response in Cape Town and London respectively?
FG: I think it will be difficult to generate the same kind of excitement in London because they're almost saturated with exhibitions, but it's still important to show it there because I feel Britain needs to have exhibitions that shows art that actually deals with issues. By that I mean it seems that the art scene is still ruled by the YBAs and everyone else is sidelined.
RD: The audience at the Cape Town opening surpassed my expectations. More important than it being so well attended was it being so textured, diverse and energetic - breaking the typical mould of Cape Town openings. A London audience will no doubt respond differently. It will be more difficult to appear fresh and edgy in a city that deems itself so 'hot' in the art world - a challenge!
As practising artists, what are your plans once 'Juncture' has finished absorbing most of your time?
FG: I've got a few exhibitions lined up and a few projects I want to start on that involve South Africa.
RD: After 'Juncture' I know we will immerse ourselves in making new work as we are first and foremost practising artists.
The remains of Jo Ractliffe's
Huang Yong Ping
The remains of Jo Ractliffe's
Huang Yong Ping
Obituary for Johannesburg's Market Gallery|
by ex-director Stephen Hobbs
The Market Theatre Galleries operated under a variety of different committees and artist collectives from around 1978 until December 2000. During this time two political positions defined its mission. Between the late seventies and early nineties, its primary mission was to champion an era of resistance art and politics, celebrating a host of exhibitions and artists, whose goal was to speak out against the apartheid system. The censorship laws of the day were challenged and cross cultural practice promoted. In 1994, this position was radically altered, with the ushering in of a new democratic order. Under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and the ANC government, the battle against apartheid was won. I became the manager of the Market Theatre Galleries precisely seven days (20 April 1994) before the elections that would announce South Africa's first democratic government. In that same year the Market Galleries received their first ever, major naming rights sponsorship, in the form of R180 000.00. This amount was to be used over the five year period to which the naming rights applied. Having received the money from Transatlantic Tobacco Co., a holding of the Rembrandt Group, the Market Theatre Galleries very quickly became known rather awkwardly (not an entirely appropriate name for a contemporary space) as the Rembrandt van Rijn Art Gallery.
In this new dispensation for the country, the second political position for the space now came into being. This meant not only continuing with the provision for non commercial experimental work by young unknown artists, but also the redefinition of the aims and objectives of showcasing contemporary work. This was a radical time. No rules or guidelines had exactly been put in place to dictate what new contemporary work in South Africa might be like. South Africa's reentry into the global arena had a stimulating but confusing effect on the types of production beginning to emerge from the local art schools and on the country's artists, who were now more frequently participating in shows abroad. While installation art, video and conceptual or neo conceptual work had already been in production in spite of our cultural isolation during the seventies and eighties, it was infinitely more possible, now, for young artists to start accessing such modes of practice. Many critics at the time, however, argued about what was authentic experience and expression in the works of young artists as opposed to that which seemed too internationalist. These debates formed an important basis from which the Market Galleries attempted to define its own sense of the contemporary in Johannesburg and the country at large, as well as the terms by which it would debate such issues within the international arena.
In tandem with the internal politics of the Market and many other non-commercial theatre/art complexes, was the raging question of funding and survival. For so many years prior to '94, there was a much clearer position from which to fund raise and seek support, particularly if you were internationally recognised for challenging apartheid with quality work. I'll never forget, how in spite of the government grant the Market Theatre received around 1996, the director for the Market, actor/producer John Kani, made it painfully clear that we could longer rest on our laurels. No matter how important a part the Market Theatre had played in fighting the regime, it would have to find new ways to sing for its supper, so to speak.
Between 1995 and 1999 the galleries enjoyed an exceptionally diverse period of exhibitions and alternative projects. I was fortunate enough to travel quite extensively during this time allowing for partnerships to be formed between, the UK, Portugal, France, Holland and so on. As the years progressed each new event was informed by local and national developments in the arts, whether between artists and the media - cultural institutions and their new policies on collaboration or increasing solutions to funding options etc, and while this was happening more and more local artists were receiving critical acclaim abroad.
Internally - that is within the Market Theatre structures, very different experiences in theatre especially, and the over exaggerated negativity associated with the venues' location to the inner city, saw numbers in patronage steadily declining. By mid 2000, the complex had no choice but to restructure. Hence, enormous pressure was placed on all related components falling outside the Theatre spaces themselves. Essentially if the gallery was to continue, it was to do so with almost no start up funds, I would be required to raise my own salary and in all likelihood, we would have to become a tenant, required to pay rent for the space.
Ironically, The Sandton Civic Gallery, the Civic Theatre gallery and the Bill Ainslie Gallery, all based in Johannesburg - were encountering very similar ultimatums. It is my understanding that at this point all of these spaces have either been closed or are re negotiating their futures. Needless to say, my time was up at the Market. At this point the 'gallery' exists purely as a beautiful vaulted space, waiting for direction from the senior management. All that remains for now is a fairly extensive historical archive spanning literally every year of its existence, and the collection of prints, sculptures and paintings housed at the Gertrude Posel Gallery at Wits University - Oh, and a lot of memories.
Between 1994 and 2000, the gallery either hosted or participated, in nearly a hundred exhibitions. There are far too many artists and projects to name individually, but it is safe to say that a good portion of those who presented work at the Market gained a lot of experience and attention.
I think it is much more important to consider what that experience means and how it can be used to define new possibilities for culture in this country than to lament the demise of the Market Theatre Galleries. The culture industry of the new South Africa is so painfully young, that it makes more sense to move on than to hold on to old orders.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider with the closure of the Market Theatre Galleries and the other not-for-profit spaces mentioned above, is that experimental, non commercial work for the moment will find less opportunity than before. I suggest however that this may be a positive condition. In the past years a range of initiatives have emerged whose practice - alternative to the gallery systems, has provided astonishing avenues for communication in the visual arts. In particular, I am referring to the Public Eye collective based in Cape Town, the Project Room in Johannesburg or Red Eye in Durban.
And finally my own future I believe, lies in the organisation called The Trinity Session, founded by myself, Kathryn Smith and Jose Ferreira.
The Trinity Session is an independent arts consultancy specializing in public art projects, project initiation and production, curating, researching and critical writing. Specialized interest areas include urban development and criticism, technology and the body and debates on south-south geopolitical conditions. With local galleries and institutions facing closure and/or radical restructuring, we believe that the processes of absorbing, producing, communicating and representing art will shift in quite interesting ways that will seem invisible in the so-called art world landscape. We are interested in intercepting such interstices and making them tangible.
Cape Town gallerist heads up Miami art collection|
by Sue Williamson
The new director of the Rubell art collection in Miami is Cape Town artist and gallerist Mark Coetzee. The Rubell art collection consists of at least 6 000contemporary artworks and includes work by such internationally famous artists as Joseph Beuys, Julian Schnabel, Carl Andre, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, Eric Fischl and Cindy Sherman. Video animations by William Kentridge are also included in the collection.
The collection is owned by Donald and Mera Rubell, who moved from New York to Miami in 1992. The Rubells are regarded as being amongst the top 200 of the world's collectors. The artworks have been housed in a double storey building in Wynwood, Miami, since 1994. The 4000 square metres of space is divided into 14 different exhibition areas, each of which is generally dedicated to a single artist. Only about 10% of the collection is on view at any one time, while the rest of the work is kept in storage.
Coetzee's responsibilities will include managing the collection and the building, arranging exhibitions,compiling catalogues of the collection, installing a library and giving input towards the extension of a new wing. As a South African, his appointment has potential for South African artists - Coetzee will be in a position to introduce appropriate work for the collection to the Rubells.
The focus of the collection is on contemporary art, with the oldest works in the collection dating from the mid seventies, when the Rubells began collecting art. "Among the reasons for my appointment is that the Rubells need to fill a contemporary African art gap in the collection. They want African art to hold its own in the international arena," says Coetzee. "At the moment, Kentridge is the only South African artist represented in the collection. I anticipate more South African artists being added."
One of Coetzee's first challenges is an extensive project set for 2001. Plans for expansion include an additional 1000 square metres of floor space in a new wing, a total replanning of the existing spaces, the addition of lecture facilities, a sculpture garden and a library for the 60 000 odd art publications in the Rubells' possession. By November, it is hoped that there will be a total of 31 exhibition spaces.
In the meantime, Coetzee's Cape Town gallery, the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet is being used a studio residency space by visiting foreign artists. Currently installed is American Paco Rodrigues.
Part II of Kathryn Smith's overview of the Johannesburg art scene.
Galleries in jeopardy: curious benefactors or malicious deserters?
Within the last two months, four galleries in Johannesburg of varying degrees of establishment have either closed or become dormant. While the problems associated with the current situation have been bubbling under the surface for quite some time and probably (strategically) ignored for longer, the situation came to a head just before Christmas. The Market Theatre Gallery no longer has staff and is without the funds to employ a new manager. The Johannesburg Civic's front-of-house space has been given over as retail space as part of the Civic's regeneration programme. Natasha Fuller is resigning as director of the Sandton Civic as of the end of February, and her successor is as yet unannounced. Finally, The Bill Ainslie Gallery at the Johannesburg Art Foundation lies empty and unattended and the Foundation has suspended all full-time courses.
Needless to say, this has been the cause of much hysteria and lamentation, with people fearful of histories and legacies soon to be forgotten and waxing nostalgic about what was, and by extension, what could have been. The situation certainly is dire. By providing artists with spaces to show their work, galleries are effectively the face of a legitimated cultural practice, or rather, signs of a society that validates a particular kind of culture. Most importantly from the point of view of the artist, they are agents that provide access to local and international art markets.
As soundbytes of gossip regarding imminent closures of galleries circulated through the grapevine in past months, I admit I panicked at first. The Market Theatre scenario came as no real surprise as we had been fighting a losing battle in advisory board meetings for the last six months at least. But as the information sank in, I started to try to analyse the situation.
Why is it that the traditional gallery system per se does not seem to work in Johannesburg? For a city with the reputation (fading?) of South Africa's version of New York, it is disappointing that public support for the city's artists seems on the wane. You can count the number of people at most general openings on your fingers and toes. And as for the number of people you've never seen before, half a hand will do nicely. Perhaps part of this lack of support from those members of the general public can be laid at the door of those at the top: under the banner of 'the leisure industry', the government is apparently on a mission to encourage a gambling climate in South Africa, an 'exciting new way' to spend leisure time - and disposable income - in a pseudo cultural atmosphere. As such, casinos housing cinema, theatre and retail, are 'artful' in their Eurotrash construction, harking back to distant cultures that sit uncomfortably on our local landscapes as quintessential illustrations of everything Umberto Eco enjoyably critiqued in 'Faith in Fakes'.
To get back to the main question: what are South African galleries and how do we expect them to function, if they are not making money? In all honesty, few of the spaces in question functioned as galleries in all senses of the word. They did not deal work, nor represent artists the way larger commercial spaces do. Yes, work was sold, but the main function of the galleries concerned was to provide spaces to show work, often experimental, rather than aggressively market the artists concerned. They trod a curious terrain between the gallery, the museum and the community centre.
In trying to extract some concrete facts behind the decision-making process in each case, the biggest problem is (surprise!) the lack of transparency between those making the decisions and the relaying of this information to staff, stakeholders and the public. Where the gallery managers are concerned, their feelings range from frustration and anger to sadness that trusts have been betrayed. It's difficult not to have a defeatist attitude if the work one does in trying to maintain a space with meagre financial means and major bureaucratic procedure is constantly glossed over.
The Johannesburg Civic Theatre has recently shifted its status from a Section 21 not-for-profit organisation to a Pty (Ltd). The directorship has been eclipsed by a CEO post, inhabited by showbiz whiz Bernard Jay. It is his clear brief from the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council and the Board that every facility in the theatre must be used to maximise income and viability for future sustainability. As Jay put it, the theatre, or "home of entertainment" as he prefers, will be marketed as a "leisure destination of choice". As such, the gallery, in its prime front-of-house position, was earmarked as valuable retail space. The idea is to create a Times Square-type environment with retail lifestyle and food chains related to the entertainment industry (think rock 'n roll memorabilia stores and you're on the money).
Jay is deeply sympathetic with the plight of the gallery. As an 'art space' forms part of the complex's overall identity, he has offered an alternative space to the gallery board, rent-free for three years, but is not prepared to provide a manager's salary. The board is still deciding on the best and most productive way forward.
One could argue that if business took a risk and marketed fine art in the same way as the Christmas pantomime, things might be different. But how many artists would be happy with this, as either way it ends up as commodification? The balance between making work that fulfils one's creative criteria and making work that sells is an age-old one for artists.
Our situation is no different to that of actors. There is a notion that the world owes us a living by virtue of our creativity. Creativity, as we know, is essential to the foundation and knowledge-building of any society. But, echoing Jay's sentiment, unless we find a way of making our work speak to the punters without compromising ourselves, and in so doing become valuable, how much can we expect to be owed?
The ideal situation will see commercial and non-commercial practices operating in symbiosis. Jay agrees, but pragmatist that he is, knows that this cannot happen immediately. And his job is about immediate damage control with long view plans.
As far as ex-gallery manager Justine Lipson is concerned, the gallery occupied an absolutely vital place in the greater Gauteng area providing exhibition opportunities for young artists. The gallery programme was provisionally full until September, although no shows had been formally booked as the future was uncertain. Lipson has taken up another post within the theatre.
Well-known art enthusiast, collector and critic Lucia Burger, who is a member of the Gallery Board, is devastated. She had this to say: "Galleries are the only place that you go to see Art. There are still artists that are making that kind of art. If we don't have meaningful galleries, then all we are left with are 'popular galleries' where people are going to buy sunflowers or cosmos (daisies), and that becomes what art is." Enough said.
It seems as though the post-election reshuffling of local government have been responsible for much of the circulating misinformation. The cultural departments of local Johannesburg metro councils have consolidated into one body dubbed Heritage Services. Headed up by playwright and culture worker Maishe Maponya, said services include the Johannesburg Art Gallery, MuseumAfrica, the Roodepoort Museum and various branch museums and galleries of which the Sandton Civic is a part.
Sandton Civic director Natasha Fuller plans to resign at the end of February. Maponya has until then to decide whether to appoint a replacement, and if so, who that is. The source of the rumours printed twice in local press that this space is destined to be sold off by the council as retail space is unknown to Fuller. The articles stated that the East Metro Council has been negotiating and evaluating that space with a commercial sale in mind.
The FNB Vita Art Prize, which has held its annual award shows at the Sandton Civic for the past few years, will continue with Fuller in a consulting role, as the funding and administrative infrastructure are in place. But it may mean the competition is destined to move around in a more visible, national way. And isn't that what the competition's dissenters have always wished for?
Of all the spaces in Johannesburg, the Sandton Civic seemed to offer the most potential for accessing a greater public owing to its location, link to the Vita and relative neutrality as a civic space, more so than corporate or commercial galleries. However, the rates in Sandton are very high, and the opinion has been expressed that taxpayers should have a say in the future of the public space.
The gallery's rocky future means that no shows have been booked for 2001. Potential sponsors and personal reputations cannot be put at risk because of bureaucratic opacity. Fuller will continue to be active in the art world, sharing the responsibilities of the Billiton collection with Kendell Geers.
Fiona Couldridge, ex-curator at the Bill Ainslie Gallery is now teaching at Parktown College. The Board of the Johannesburg Art Foundation, which housed the gallery, decided in the best interests of the school to concentrate on active part time programme and to refurbish its image from a college to new-fashioned community centre. Ex-government culture vulture, art educator and artist Thabo Moeng is no longer the director and the staff are still waiting for their November and December salaries. The space itself is apparently available on request, but it is not known whether another curator will be appointed.
But for all the spaces that are on the decline, an equal number of independent initiatives have formed and are becoming increasingly active. The Joubert Park Project, under the leadership of Bie Venter and Dorothee Kreutzfeldt, is planning the next phase after the successful Open Day late last year. CrossPathCulture, satellite of the New York-based organisation with the same name, held workshops and their first show recently, and run a studio complex and exhibition venue down in Newtown. Interart/Interact, an informal artists discussion group formed in response to the ailing situation host their first show this month. And Stephen Hobbs, Jose Ferreira and myself have joined forces to form The Trinity Session, an independent arts consultancy specializing in public art projects, project initiation and production, curating, researching and critical writing.
While the demise of the exhibition spaces has prompted some frustration, if not horror, no one has really reacted that radically. Does the art world not toyi-toyi, or find a suitable equivalent if it wants something badly enough? A quick phone poll saw the biggest sympathy vote going to the JHB Civic, with the older generation bemoaning the Market Theatre's closure for its groundbreaking work in the Eighties. While ex-manager Stephen Hobbs gave the gallery its respected contemporary identity, there is little love lost there as his gallery obituary implies. While some may balk, he too has been asking many of the same questions about the relevance of galleries in the contemporary South African art climate and has come to similar conclusions as this writer.
One thing is certain: the situation that the Johannesburg art world faces means that the processes of absorbing, producing, communicating and representing art will shift in quite interesting ways that will at first seem invisible, but will be felt.
The biggest loss we face- and it is not irreparable - is the problem of where to show young artists who are between art school and Goodman Gallery status, for want of a better expression. While I appreciate the fact that there are many artists out there who wish to work within the white cube framework, and others who by working through the system, critique it, it is my feeling that this is a strange blessing in disguise. Absolutely we need galleries. Clive Kellner's Camouflage space, situated opposite the Goodman on Jan Smuts Avenue, is clear about the inevitable links between art, culture and politics, as its full name suggests. Designed as a curatorial laboratory, publishing unit, film and journal resource centre and stunning gallery space, it is an example of one way contemporary art spaces internationally are presenting themselves. Many local and international affiliates and partners and a sister space in Brussels gives the project security and leverage. But one such space is not enough.
But perhaps these events will force us to question what we know, the facilities and institutions we work within, how these regulate practice and the amount of navel-gazing, begging and martyrdom we perpetuate as artists. To be perpetually supported by government also means a certain amount of kow-towing, limiting for anyone.
Thus, we must set out to be genuinely proactive about creating the kind of situation we feel comfortable working in, one that is mutually beneficial for ourselves, and the public we would so dearly love to engage. It is not easy, but not impossible.
- ArtThrob encourages readers to get involved in this debate. Email us with your comments, or news on local initiatives that you know of or are involved in.
Reader's choice for artist of the year: Ghia says�"ROBIN RHODE FOR PRESIDENT"
Not being the 'arty-farty' type or earning enough to indulge myself in actually bying art, I was incredibly enlightened and surprised at the school-boy rawness of Robin Rhode. Lacking the facade of 'over-sophistication', his work is easy to relate to without having to search the deepest dimensions of your soul in order to see his intention. So often you find artists, who in an attempt to explore the inner city and especially - in his case- to describe the workings of ethnic (coloured) communities, fail to see its realness and core. Rhode does this with ease, while at the same time 'representing' and staying true to his 'bushy' art. Surprised to find that he is the youngest artist nominated for the artist of the year award, I was swept over with a sense of hope. The decline of South African art over the recent past needs a dramatic kick. Such energy lies in Robin Rhode. His refreshing look at real ideals, is, to describe it in one word - contemporary.
I am now the owner of a Rhode original. It hangs triumphantly in my lounge, not only expressing what it represents, but hangs as a symbol of all things 'unmasked'.
I first saw his work at his solo, at the Market Theatre Gallery (when it was still alive) in Gauteng entitled "living in public" and have followed closely ever since.
At a time where people are so obsessed with the 'new millenium' and all things different - having Rhode represent the artist of the year would not only be apt, but also incredibly well deserved.
See ArtThrob's artists of 2000 for the full list.
The old stalwart - Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery.
How are art and artists coping in an increasingly tight economic climate? As we go into 2001, Kathryn Smith examines some of the financial factors governing the struggle of artists and galleries to survive.
Gambling with Art
The first page of London-based independent curatorial partnership Smith & Fowle's project booklet reads: "Art is a contact sport". If only art was given the public attention that sport receives. But for all intents and purposes, let's stick with the metaphor for now.
Given the lack of privately-run galleries and spaces in South Africa, and the imminent closure or radical restructuring of several institutions and civic spaces in Johannesburg, it can be assumed that the gallery system as we know it is not functioning effectively. Years of cultural boycott and a dispensation that could politely be termed oppressive have resulted in a situation where arts and culture are not foremost on the agenda and we do not have a museum culture to speak of.
Having said that, we keep on keeping on. There are only two spaces in Johannesburg [The Goodman Gallery and Camouflage] that can be said to tap into - in greater and lesser ways - trends in international contemporary visual art. The recent establishment of CrossPathCulture South Africa (CPC) in Newtown, as a satellite of the eponymous New York-based organisation, bodes well. But the glamorous exterior of the Save-the-Bag-Factory auction being held at the Goodman on January 21, in conjunction with an exhibition of past and present residents, is quietly desperate.
There are more private commercial galleries in Cape Town, boosted by organisations like Public Eye, Zayd Minty and Blac and Tom Mulcaire's newly formed ICA, which at this stage has no fixed space. One needs to strike a balance between the commercial and the funded (read philanthropic, presupposing experimentation and a greater ability to take risks). Given this, Johannesburg maintains what I'm sure is a fingernail - or just simply hallucinatory - grasp on its status as the 'centre' of the South African art world. We need audiences, we need funds. We know this.
But who and what constitutes the amorphous phantom we continue to refer to as 'the public'? Who are the 'public' that the Vita Art Prize seeks nominations from? The incentive of prizes, which have gone from trips to Paris to weekends at Sun City, doesn't seem to be working. This became embarrassingly self-evident at the nomination announcement this year, when the lucky draw 'winner' was nominee Berni Searle, having submitted her own nomination for a fellow worthy artist in her capacity as member of the 'public'.
Art needs to become more public. And by saying that, I mean it needs to reassess its role and grow a business head such that it can market itself in an appealing way without 'selling out' or delivering substandard goods. Several recent initiatives, like Red Eye @rt and Soft Serve have gone a long way in creating some sense of what may and may not work, often in response to cut budgets and depleting gallery attendance.
In Johannesburg, similar initiatives have not gone so well, dogged by a number of problems ranging from the reluctance of audiences to come into the city centre to the lack of the kind of roll-up-the-sleeves-and-muck-in community spirit apparent in artists in our other two major centres.
With regard to the financial support of the arts, it has become clear that, as it is overseas, the corporate sector is a most important patron. Here, Business Arts South Africa (BASA) does its best to foster relationships between artists and businesses, showing both how branding can be of mutual benefit. Foreign agencies like the French Institute, Pro Helvetia and the Netherlands Embassy are also integral in their sponsorship support, and while we don't want to rely solely on international funding, it seems that foreign organisations are that much more invested than our own. The government funding agency is the National Arts Council, and finally, there is the Art & Culture Trust of the President, which makes smaller financial - but nonetheless essential - grants for projects.
But what of the lottery, which in the UK has been a major boost for the arts and provided the funding for such handsome and expansive new museum buildings as the Tate Liverpool?
I don't know how many of you came across a pamphlet issued by NACLI close to the time of the launch of the National Lottery. NACLI was initiated by Mike van Graan's arts consultancy Article 27, and stood for the National Arts and Culture Lottery Initiative, intended to lobby public support to ensure that arts and culture got their fair share of the pie. That I hadn't heard a thing since was jolted by the increasingly loud rumblings in the press recently about the disbursing of lottery funds to charities - that they simply are not getting there. At that stage not sure whether NACLI was intended as an independent lottery to benefit the arts, or whether proceedings were to be gleaned from the Lotto, I wrote first to Van Graan in October last year, asking who the intended beneficiaries were, and an independent lottery was in the pipeline, why it had been squashed? He responded:
Sending the same questions to Steven Sack, he responded thus:
So where is the money, and why don't we know who is responsible? When some R300 million is at stake, governmental responsibility cannot be shirked. Three whooping cheers must go to Artslink's new arts editor Darryl Accone, whom I always suspected had more up his sleeve than The Star newspaper would allow him. In a new daily column called ArtRap, Accone has recently taken much pleasure in lambasting what has become our culture - " the unholy trinity of casinos, Lotto and cellphones".
This gruesome threesome is a bit of a catch-22. Johannesburg is rapidly being surrounded by a laager of Eurotrash casinos. While casinos seduce many into relinquishing disposable and not-so-disposable incomes that may have been spent on other forms of culture and entertainment, the same casinos provide superbly appointed theatres for performers. And many an artist was employed in the mosaicing and faux-stonework of said buildings. I balk at the thought.
Let us concentrate on the Lotto, part of the funds from which were supposed to go towards arts and culture. Accone recently sat on a Kaya FM panel of Lotto honchos including one Victor Dlamini, head of Uthingo, which disburses national lottery money; representative from the Department of Trade and Industry Sunwibile Mencotywa, representative; economist Majakaphapa Mokoena; and BASA CEO Nicola Danby.
He described Dlamini as a 'teflon-smooth spin doctor'. While the DTI representative pointed out that 10% has been allocated to the arts from the Lotto loot, we must keep in mind that the arts shares this with heritage and environment. As Accone writes, " The best-case scenario would see arts emerging with 60 percent of that 10 percent, leaving it with a net gain of zero over the Wiehahn recommendations on what the Lotto should dish out to arts (six percent)... Tata ma chance may yet mean ta-ta to the arts."
As Accone has pointed out, as have we many times, arts and culture activists need to mobilise and be proactive. If we wish the arts to benefit, it is up to each of us to monitor the situation, and raise our voices where necessary.
Next week: The shaky future of galleries in Johannesburg and those who are doing it for themselves.
- Excerpts in this piece accredited to Darryl Accone - Artslink.co.za.
Advances in Printmaking: What is an inkjet, or a giclée, print?
With advances in technology, new ways of making art images emerge. Recently, a show was held at the Bell-Roberts Contemporary in Cape Town entitled 'Collaboration', in which artists invited by Russell Jones of The Scan Shop exhibited prints made by the inkjet or giclee method, as it is sometimes called. Respected practitioners in the field like veteran photographer David Goldblatt herald the technology. Goldblatt has said that he had never been happy with the results of his own colour photography, but that the inkjet print, scanned from his original, adjusted where necessary and digitally printed now gives him the controlled result he requires.
However, as with any new advance, the more one knows, the more one can assess the strengths and weaknesses of the new techniques. In the interests of opening up the debate, ArtThrob publishes an email forwarded by Geoff Grundlingh at the South African Centre for Photography. (ArtThrob's editors are in agreement that the term 'giclee' is absurd, and the plainly descriptive 'inkjet' is infinitely preferable.)
"We've had many questions relating to the stability and durability of inkjet prints now that these are being bought and sold in the art market. Here are two interesting contributions from AD Coleman on the term "giclee" and on the archival qualities of these prints. (Sourced from an e-mail submitted to List for Photo/Imaging Educators - Professionals - Students firstname.lastname@example.org by Jan Faul
1. In an earlier email, responding to your request for permission to circulate the text of one of my essays, I wrote, "I should add that I find the term giclee noxious, for several reasons:
"It demonstrates a deep ignorance of the French language, in which the term connotes ejaculated -- as in male human sperm and cat spray. The French find use of this term in U.S. photo and print-making circles hysterically funny."
"It affirms the insecurity of Usonians in their own culture, and their abiding faith that Frenchifying something gives it class.
2. And, in your response to those comments, you wrote, "RE: the term Giclee'... While I understand the problems with it (and agree with your objections), it is an accepted term of art by many (not all). What can you suggest (in 1-2 words) to replace it and stand for 'museum quality, archival inket print'?"
You might all do well to remember that there is no commonly accepted 1-2
word term that stands for "museum quality, archival silk-screen print"
or "museum quality, archival silver gelatin print." Why would you expect
anyone to come up with one for inkjet prints? Why, in fact -- since we
don't have one for photos, silk-screens, etchings, engravings,
lithographs, or linoleum prints, and manage to get along quite nicely
nonetheless -- do you and your colleagues think we need one for inkjet
Best wishes, Allan Coleman
Email January 2, 2001
I think you're wishful in proposing that giclee "is an accepted term of art by many (not all)." The term has been in circulation for only a few years; its use is mainly promotional. It was clearly picked out of a French-English dictionary or thesaurus by a non-Francophone who does not know colloquial French, and who found an unfamiliar yet euphonious word that officially translates as squirt or spurt, didn't think to ask anyone knowledgeable about its connotations, and slapped it on a process to make it sound fancy and continental and arty. Imagine, if you will, a French manufacturer deciding to do the reverse -- adopting an English term and calling a process "come-printing" -- and you'll have a rough equivalent of the ludicrousness involved.
Curators, scholars, conservators, and others generally describe works on
paper not according to the terminology developed by manufacturers to
gussy up their products or technologies (which is where giclee came
from), but by precise generic descriptors: etchings, engravings,
lithographs, silver gelatin prints. None of those terms implies "museum
quality," which is in any case a value judgment, and an imprecise one.
Museum collections include, for example, the original posters of
Toulouse-Lautrec, produced in mass multiple editions on the standard
poster paper(s) of their day. They include Andy Warhol silk-screened
Brillo boxes on cardboard. Thus a commercially produced lithograph and a
asually hand-screened reproduction on cheap cardboard have, at least at
resent, more art-historical significance, more market value, and more
status as museum-worthy artifacts -- more "museum quality," in short --
than any "giclee" print produced to date.
As for the term standing for "archival inkjet print": surely we can both
agree that the actual "archival" status of any ink-jet print remains to
be demonstrated, regardless of manufacturers' claims or even Henry
Wilhelm's projections. And there are ink-jet prints out there termed
"giclee" -- by their makers, and their dealers -- that were produced a
few years ago and several generations of inks back, whose lifespan will
likely be quite short, certainly nowhere near what the most durable of
today's prints will achieve -- which in turn will probably find itself
outstripped by whatever we have five years down the pike.
So to call anything today an "archival inkjet print" is optimistic at
best, a scam at worst. Very few ink-jet prints produced to date have
utilized a combination of ink and substrate tested under accelerated
conditions and offering a hypothetical longevity of much more than two
decades. Many of those already on the market will have deteriorated
noticeably by 2010. There is no commonly accepted standard of what the
lifespan of an "archival inkjet print" would be, and certainly no
guarantee that anything now labeled "giclee" will endure as long as a
Rembrandt etching or a Lautrec poster (or even a Warhol Brillo box).
So wisdom (not to mention integrity) suggests the best course to be
waiting till some ink-jet prints made with different inks and printers on
different substrates have had a chance to live a substantial life in the
world before applying the term "archival" to them, rather than using that
concept vaguely and manipulatively to hustle collectors and curators.
Additionally, of course, none of the standard descriptors for works on
paper -- terms such as etching, engraving, lithograph, silver gelatin
print -- in and of themselves indicate or imply anything about the
"archival" permanence of the work in question. Indication of archival
quality of such works may be suggested by additional, corollary
information: etching printed on Arches paper, selenium-toned
silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper, etc. The same precision and
caution should govern the use of the term "archival" in relation to
Happy new year,
New hope for cultural centre for Cape Town|
by Sue Williamson
Under the title of Culture Zone, a new grouping of community based organisations such as Mediaworks, the Community Arts Project (CAP), Public Eye, BLAC, the Arts and Culture Forum, the WOW Festival and the Community Video Education Trust are spearheading an initiative to get for Cape Town what it has long needed: a multi-purpose centre for cultural activity. Here, arts and culture organisations could work, share resources, cross-pollinate ideas and provide multiple access opportunities for visitors to the city.
Generative spaces such as the Pompidou in Paris and the De Melkweg in Amsterdam have created the model for clustering education and presentation of arts in a dynamic format. Closer to home, though not without their problems, Johannesburg's Newtown Cultural Precinct and Durban's BAT Centre, provide centres for the arts.
With the support of the Government and the private sector, the Culture Zone initiative aims to identify and acquire an appropriate building which will be developed into a multi-functional complex. This complex will offer invaluable workspace to cultural organisations as well as shared facilities such as meeting places, a multi-purpose gallery, a resource centre, a café, and speciality arts related shops.
"Not only will this initiative improve networking amongst cultural formations but it will also increase our income generating potential", says Merle Falken, chairperson of the Arts and Cultural Forum speaking about the importance of the initiative. Regarding financing, Karen Thorne, Director of Mediaworks, says, "The aim is to get a building donated. We will pool our resources and do the rest."
Zayd Minty, Blac initiator and Coordinator of the recent One City Festival, spoke about the vision of the space. "Imagine a place where you can watch a cutting edge performance, buy locally produced CD's, books and crafts, hang out at a really trendy coffee shop and do some serious networking - a place to really hothouse a new positive culture for the city".
For more info, contact Karen Thorne of Mediaworks at (021) 531 2923.