At the end of April, I packed my bags for a month long trip to the US of A, with a side excursion in the middle of May to Dakar in Senegal.
First stop was Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, a liberal arts college in a leafy small town setting, where I had the pleasure of taking up an invitation from Kim Miller, Associate Professor in Women’s Studies and Art History, to talk to her students about my own work, and that of other South African women artists engaged with issues of contemporary society, like Zanele Muholi, Candice Breitz, Dineo Seshee Bopape and Gabrielle Goliath.
I was staying in the Wheaton College guest house, Austin House, the only visitor, and it was easy to imagine I had returned to the classic mid 20th century American era Donald Trump is trying so hard to evoke (‘Make America Great Again!’). Austin House was designed by Walter Gropius’ Architects Collaborative in 1961, and the modernist furnishing and finishes throughout are in keeping: low couches, a spherical clock, Josef Albers prints and a light wood kidney shaped table in the living room, high pitched windows which allow the sunlight to stream in. Even the television set is small and clunky, and plays only one channel.
On Friday morning Kim and I paid a visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Outside the museum is South Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa’s Red Flower (see above), part of the ‘Megacities Asia’ exhibition. Lit from within at night, this giant lotus bloom gently opens and closes its petals.
#techstyle at the BMFA is an exhibition of extraordinary innovation in fashion – a cape and skirt by Iris van Herpen in rubber and acrylic which has emerged from a 3D printer but looks as if it has been excavated from the Great Barrier Reef; a soft black leather jacket from Elvira ‘t Hart translated directly from her drawing to the final jacket by means of a laser cutter – a white fabric lining taking the place of the original drawing paper; Albert Kriemler’s black tuxedo with ‘e-broidery’ sparkles with tiny flashing lights.
Back in New York, collector Artur Walther is throwing a Collectors’ Dinner to mark the opening of Frieze and the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. His Fifth Avenue apartment is wonderfully spacious, one large room after the other and all leading out on to a terrace overlooking the Met and the Central Park Reservoir. For the occasion, Artur has hung the apartment with Samuel Fossi prints, and the light source in the rooms is given by dozens of candles massed in low silver platters which reflect the flickering flames. A French gallerist is spreading hand painted brooches by one her artists on a table, and soon these are to be seen pinned on to guests drifting though the party.
1:54 … the name refers to the fact that Africa may be one continent but there are 54 countries within its boundaries …is a relatively new art fair which runs parallel to Frieze in London and New York, and in New York it is held at Pioneer Works, a red brick industrial space in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Pioneer Works is a handsome building but difficult to get to by public transport, especially from Frieze, located on Randall’s Island in the East River. I wonder how many people will make the effort… I am showing four works from the Havana series and three from the Other Voices Other Cities series on the Axis Gallery stand, along with Theo Eshetu and Al Miller. But the critics, the curators and the crowds do come… and on Sunday afternoon, there is the New York launch of my monograph, Sue Williamson: Life and Work in an upstairs room at Pioneer Works, hosted by Lisa Brittan and Gary van Wyk of Axis, Natasha Becker of the Goodman Gallery, and Francesco Baragiola of Skira Editore, the publishers. Art historian Chika Okeke Ogulu who wrote the foreword to the book skillfully leads the conversation.
The day before, I have attempted to take in the vast reaches of the white tent which houses Frieze. Stamina is required. And a determined ability to look past all the work hung purely to catch the eye and open the wallet and find something with more depth.
The New York Times critic Holland Cotter lauded the Stevenson Gallery for their ‘invaluable mini-survey of Moshekwa Langa’s art, something almost impossible to imagine in almost any New York commercial space’, and Cape Town’s blank project, showing Igshaan Adams, also draws praise from the critics.
The German gallery Societe is offering visitors bottles of Soylent to visitors from gleaming glass and steel refrigerators, and the thick, bland slightly sickly nutritional drink provides a metaphor for Frieze: it might be well packaged, with offerings from 200 galleries, it might keep you alive, but you wouldn’t want to drink it every day.
Two days later, I flew to Dakar, but more about that next time.