How to sum up the year that has passed? Exiting 2003, I cannot say I am possessed with the same optimism with which I entered it. It is not the artworld that has occasioned this gloom. The conflagration in Iraq, characterised by its confusing unwinding, not to mention its lexicon of neologisms, has set a worrying tone.
While we celebrate the achievements of South African artists abroad, and indeed locally too, there appear to be dark, sightless undercurrents churning the waters, making things unpredictable. While African art practice has gained an undeniable 'currency' in the (mercantile) art centres of the world, particularly in view of the successes of shows such as 'The Short Century', 'Documenta XI' and 'Authentic/Ex-Centric', my own optimism is nonetheless tempered by the reactionary worldview of the Neo-Conservatives, whose ideas already shape the political will of the world's most powerful nation. What real chance does meaningful pluralism (which includes acceptance of art from the periphery) have when it is pitted against the shock and awe of contemporary Western politics?
Pluralism here is an important word to hold onto, a word that has immediate relevance to South Africa. The halcyon days of the 1990s are over. As we contemplate ten years of freedom, the more forthright amongst us promoting this nation as a model of pluralism, I must however admit to a nagging cynicism of the West's desire to truly engage the 'other', us.
Take New York, for instance. Following the cataclysm of 9/11, the city is rebuilding itself in its own image, the world's new tallest building due to be erected on the site of the deceased Twin Towers. Doubtlessly this mercantile symbol will cast a lengthy shadow - a very triumphant one at that. True, this is a rather forced reading of the new structure, but nonetheless legitimate.
Politics and global economics has always insinuated themselves into art practice. As South African artists look optimistically to greater gains in 2004, it is worth remembering that we have entered a new ideological era, one in which Africa is suddenly relevant again, not because of the exotic birdcalls of our artists but because the continent possesses black gold - oil.
Next update: January 16, 2004
Michael Stevenson Contemporary is host to two exhibitions through until next year: Hylton Nel presents some recent ceramics, while there is a curated show entitled 'Literally and Figuratively: Text and image in South African art'. Also: The long-awaited permanent exhibition of rock paintings and engravings is finally opening at the SA Museum; Nicolaas Maritz is at the UCT Irma Stern Museum; Karl Gietl holds his second show of paintings at João Ferreira; Alan Alborough's 'work[ing/ in] pro[cess/ gress]' is on at the Sasol Art Museum; and 'AidsArt/ South Africa' and 'Long Life' are on at the South African National Gallery.
Judy Woodborne presents six new etchings based on the idea of theme and variations, at Art on Paper; Gordon Froud, who recently took over the Thompson Gallery, presents a bumper Christmas show; Johannes Phokela presents his first comprehensive solo exhibition in South Africa, at Gallery Momo; the 2003 DaimlerChrysler Arts Award exhibition focuses on eight photographers at the forefront of their craft; and 'Small Things Bright and Beautiful' is an unashamedly commercial show for the festive season, at the Goodman Gallery.
Ezequiel Mabote is on at the Blue Caterpillar Art Gallery at Butterflies for Africa, Pietermaritzburg; Berni Searle's Standard Bank Young Artists of 2003 show, is still on at the DAG; the NSA hosts its annual 'Buzzart' exhibition; and 'Tea with Buddha' is a mini exhibition of sorts, at Re-store in Overport Drive.
Lots happening in the USA: 'White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art' is the first exhibition of art that explores race and racism from the perspective of white people, and includes works by William Kentridge; 'Body Maps' is a group show and sale of artworks by South African-born artists in support of The Memory Box Project, in New York; Kendell Geers and Moshekwa Langa show together again on 'Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora', in Long Island; and last chance to see 'A Fiction of Authenticity: Contemporary Africa Abroad', a show that brings together a group of African artists practicing in the diaspora, in St Louis.
2003 in review: Ed Young contemplatively recalls the year in which he became the talk - and for some the toast - of the town, while Garth Walker offers a candid take on local art . Andrew Lamprecht, Virginia MacKenny, Sipho Madanda, Sean O'Toole, Michael Stevenson and Carine Zaayman proffer their views on the highs and lows of 2003, while Melvyn Minnaar asks some pointed questions about the Brett Kebble Art Awards. Paul Edmunds, writing with deceptive humility, touches on some profound concerns relating to the difficult interplay of art and criticism.
Books: Emma Bedford discusses the Fresh project, in the process offering a snapshot of young South African artists and their concerns; while Mario Pissarra's exhaustive critical review of Okwui Enwezor's (ed.) The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945- 1994 finds the book excellent in itself, but ultimately disconnected from a coherent whole. Also: Rory Bester on Chris Ledochowski and Michael Meyersfeld, and Sue Williamson on Moshekwa Langa.
Other Reviews: Paul Edmunds visits the Michaelis Graduate Exhibition and finds his own maturity, with all its benefits and pitfalls, thrown into sharp relief, while over at João Ferreira, he is amused by Karl Gietl's paintings. Sue Williamson hails Minette Vári's twin channel video The Calling.
David Goldblatt's colour studies of rural landscapes are more than mute depictions of the land. Sean O'Toole spoke to him about the ideological weight of depicting the land in South African art, thereby gaining some insight into his two Edition's prints. Also: Stripshow is an all new, all female comic book from Stellenbosch; the Brett Kebble Art Awards is back, bigger and bolder, with a R200K reward for the 2004 winner; Rochelle Keene has resigned; Kathryn Smith has been selected as the Standard Bank Young Artist of 2004, in the category visual arts; and South African art book design is scrutinised.
What motivates curators and art buyers to purchase artworks? This simple question is the premise for Gallery Choice, a monthly feature that aims to reveal who (public museums/corporate collections) is buying what (artist), and why.
Michael Stevenson reveals why, in his personal capacity, he only collects the work of one artist.
Sue Williamson winds up the year in Cape Town.
Kathryn Smith, a well-known independent artist, curator and critic, has been selected as the Standard Bank Young Artist of 2004. Sean O'Toole gets to grips with the young artist's self-confessed "forensic method" of producing art, a method that recreates narrative and history by sifting through the debris, fragments and potentially risky spaces of her adopted city - Johannesburg - and its suburbs.
We recommend Caroline Botha's deliriously silly DAD website.
We list some of our favourite projects from the year gone by.
A section devoted to calls for submissions and proposals; invitations to participate; studios to let; art auctions and charity benefits. This week: An invitation to participate in James Webb's '52WEEKS52WORKS'; and a call for applications for Thupelo Workshops.
Pitso Chinzima responds to a recent criticism pitched at Nontsikelelo Veleko's show at the X-Gallery, at the JAG.
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David Goldblatt is widely regarded as one of South Africa's foremost artistic talents, a photographer with a unique sensitivity to South Africa's landscape and the people that inhabit it. ArtThrob is particularly pleased to announce that David Goldblatt is our Editions artist for December 2003 and January 2004. Order his print here.
We had previously announced that Kay Hassan would be the final artist for 2003, but production problems have delayed Hassan's print, which will now be offered at a future date.
Available now: outstanding prints by William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Hentie van der Merwe, and Tracey Rose.
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