Archive: Issue No. 123, November 2007

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From: Karin Preller
Subject: Landi Raubenheimer's review of Willem Boshoff show
Date received: 30.10.07

While criticality in reviews should be welcomed, as it is so often absent, Landi Raubenheimer's review of Willem Boshoff's exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery is such an easy dismissal of the practice of one of South Africa's most successful conceptual artists (one who has, according to Raubenheimer, 'even' attained international acclaim) that it cannot go unanswered.

Raubenheimer's main point of criticism seems to centre on the 'extent of ideological criticism in [Boshoff's] artistic practice', or, at least, on his lack of consideration of the complexities and nuances of ideology, and on his apparent lack of integrity by naïvely assuming a critical ideological stance from 'the viewpoint his living room affords him'. Thrown into this is the fact that Boshoff's art is included in most corporate collections, the implication being that this somehow instantly disqualifies and discredits him and his artistic practice.

This, surely, is a debate that is ultimately just pointless, circular and, quite frankly, extremely dated (especially in this (post) postmodern world). It is just so easy to accuse any artist of the calibre of Boshoff of this complicity with some of the power structures which he might also be challenging. However, how exactly does an artist circumvent this? This irony has befallen almost every major 'subversive' artist and artwork since Duchamp and conceptual art's challenges to the definition of the artist and art object itself. The argument is indicative of nothing except naïvete on the part of the reviewer.

Boshoff's alleged failure to deal with ideology's complexities is simply not well founded. The reviewer's reference to Marxism seems reductive in itself. Furthermore, Raubenheimer seems to suggest that, on one level, Boshoff's work is 'intangible and alienating to the viewer' while at the same time arguing (albeit in relation to specific earlier works) that 'everything is far too obvious'. It is just too easy to isolate specific works to suit one's argument.

Boshoff is further accused of not communicating the human suffering he alludes to, and of an 'irritating' tendency (mainly in his 2004 work) to deal with issues in a clinical, tidy manner ('the works are just too neat and tidily resolved'). The reviewer clearly still has extremely optimistic ideas about the power of art. In a world in which we are constantly, visually and otherwise, reminded of acts of violence against humanity, is it not exactly in the absence of overtly dealing with the atrocities of human suffering where the strength and the impact of his work lies? His exploration of language as a powerful tool which informs, constructs, distorts, simplifies and obfuscates means that one is engaged exactly 'on levels other than just the visual'.

To blithely use phrases like 'matric level artwork', 'clichéd and naïve', and 'contrived' in relation to some of the 2004 works, and then to ignore the nuanced complexities of the body of work as a whole, smacks of a patronising arrogance, and, worse, it is not founded on convincing arguments. So, with an easy dismissal of one or two of Boshoff's works, Raubenheimer has 'yet to be persuaded by some of his artworks'. 'Persuasive' is unfortunately not a term that springs to mind when reading this review. The review leaves this writer unconvinced, and yet to be persuaded.

From: Lisa Allan
Subject: Landi Raubenheimer's review of Willem Boshoff show
Date received: 28.10.07

There are several issues I would like to respond to in Landi Raubenheimer's review of Willem Boshoff's midlife retrospective, (ArtThrob October 2007). I would like to make it clear that this response is to Raubenheimer's review as opposed to my own reading of Boshoff's exhibition.

Rigorous debate and critical responses to artists' exhibitions in forums such as ArtThrob should be welcomed. It is something that is singularly missing in 'the insular art world in South Africa', but unnecessarily provocative and insulting statements should not be conflated with critique. Provocation as a conceit in this instance seems to be more about the reviewer's desire for a response, or to be perceived as the fearless avant garde critic rather than adding any particular merit to the review. Presumably adding 'insult to injury' can work both ways.

Is Raubenheimer truly accusing Boshoff of insulting his viewers? It would be enlightening to the reader - and to Boshoff - to be informed of the alternative position the artist should take other than the 'view from his living room'. Is Raubenheimer suggesting that Boshoff needs to be an 'embedded' artist in order to effectively comment on, or condemn political actions? What 'knowledge' of political actions does Raubenheimer have other than the view from her living room? Unless she is suggesting that artists can only make work about things that they 'know' which assumes that the experience of knowing is unmediated, how else can artists comment on political or social acts with insight and 'moral objectivity' other than through 'knowledge' gleaned from the mass media?

Raubenheimer argues that ideology functions through deception but does not make it clear why she, the reviewer, should be less deceived than the artist, Boshoff. Raubenheimer claims that ideology deceives the bourgeois and 'subaltern' (?) classes and situates Boshoff's subject position within one or the other of these classes. Quite how she arrives at this conclusion is not explained and further prompts the question of how the reviewer herself is positioned vis a vis these two class positions. (Not to mention that Marxist terminology does not utilize the concept of a subaltern class).

It is also unclear why Raubenheimer sees Boshoff's 'use of systems and bodies of knowledge' as echoing 'the system of ideas that constitute ideology in the Western world'. What might these overwhelmingly general systems of ideas consist of? Earlier in the review Raubenheimer comments that 'ideology is complex and nuanced', a statement that is certainly not carried through in the reviewer's characterisation of the ideology of Boshoff or of the Western world. Raubenheimer then proceeds with the astonishing statement: 'at the risk of exposing my own unconscious ideological prejudices', an act she should not be able to perform if her ideological prejudices were in fact, unconscious. Furthermore this statement prompts the question of why any particular critical position with regard to artworks has to be informed by an ideological position at all. On the contrary, Raubenheimer exposes a tendency to reduce every critical move to the machinations of ideology, something she accuses Boshoff of practicing in his recent political work.

It is the last paragraph of the review in which Raubenheimer seems to be most ardently practicing a kind of avant garde provocation. Not only does she accuse Boshoff of being self-righteous, a state of being that seems contradictory given that she accuses Boshoff earlier on of producing works which 'turn out like clinical abstractions'. Is it possible to be self-righteous and clinically abstract at the same time? But the most baffling claim is Raubenheimer's statement that Boshoff's approach to ideological critique is 'pseudo-scientific'. Does Raubenheimer mean that Boshoff, like Marx, sees economic critique as a 'science'? This seems hard to reconcile with an artist who is 'wrapped up in self-righteous explorations of his own beliefs and pre-occupations'. Moreover, Raubenheimer never explains why she sees Boshoff's pseudo-scientific approach to ideology as dubious, to herself or the reader. Nor does the reviewer make clear the link between Boshoff's mythical persona and his supposed lack of artistic integrity. Is the reader simply meant to presume that because of the caricature (by Raubenheimer) of Boshoff as artistic genius, that as a result his work is equally a caricature of artistic integrity?