Archive: Issue No. 81, May 2004

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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/private galleries) is buying what (artist), and why.



Institution: not applicable
Artist: Kendell Geers
Title: untitled
Media: Concrete
Dimensions: Roadside kerbing
Location: Cradock Lane, Rosebank, Johannesburg (opposite JHI House)

It is an 'intervention' so slight it took me six or so years to notice it, a simple signature on a slab of concrete. Some ten years ago, around 1993 or 1994, Kendell Geers signed his first name into the drying cement on a bland bit of Rosebank kerbing. Intrigued by this rather unacknowledged bit of public art, I interviewed Geers by email.

What is the actual history behind this work?

"We were busy preparing one of the shows at the then Everard Read Contemporary gallery. The link between The Mall and Rosebank Centre was very much in construction and I was interested in how the development and time would eventually shift the perception of that site and space. It was almost like fixing memory. At the same time there were calls for new commissions by the architects and the fresh concrete seemed like a very quiet and yet subversive way for me to think about commissioned works of art and, of course, monuments without permission (the commissions never materialised).

"Our act was essentially one of defacement, using the fresh concrete of the construction process to quickly insert an act of vandalism as a creative moment into the history of a social space that was still very much in the development. I was with a close friend at the time and except for him I did not know that anybody else had ever noticed the intervention."

You seem to express misgivings about public art projects. If so, what are these misgiving?

"Being in the public eye, so called public artworks more often than not tend towards compromise. They remind me of art competitions where the winner is never the best work or best artist but the highest common denominator and reflects what the judges all have in common rather than anything else. 'The public' is a very nebulous term that refers to everybody and nobody at the same time, and thus works of art placed within such spaces must by definition be inoffensive and for the most part are rather boring.

"Somehow when we think about 'the public' a little policeman in our head jumps up and down in favour of an assumed moral majority and self-censorship rules. When the inner policemen of the architects, planners, sponsors, city councils, curators and artists all get together, there is little left to the imagination."

Do you think the work has any financial value given your current status? I know it's a tricky question, as some shrewd entrepreneur might rip it up once reading this.

"I cannot answer a question about value and my own art. I don't want to know about such things, but I am sure it would cost more to rip up than it's really worth."

I think it's quite charming, the fact that the work has been publicly exhibited for 11 years now, undeterred, come rain or shine, National Party and then ANC. What are your thoughts on this?

"Not everything in life can be controlled by the politicians. More importantly, I love the fact that the vandalism of a young artist is today taken so seriously and you even ask if it has value when by definition vandalism is supposed to be counter-productive to any civil society. I think that we should start a museum of the streets and encourage young artists to vandalise public spaces until the government gives us decent museums to exhibit our work in."

Are there any other bits of 'secret' art out there we should look out for?

"Oh yes, all the way from The Wedge [the former location of the Wits Art School], through Yeoville and into Rosebank and Randburg. I have always made a habit of creating small semi-public interventions that punctuate my journey as a cultural miscreant. My favourite used to be a bent street light just opposite the Hyatt Hotel, but the last time I passed I saw that it had finally been replaced by a new one."