Emma Amos
X Flag 1993
Acrylic on canvas,
laser transfer photograph,
Confederate flag borders
130 x 100cm

So what did they think?

In an informal survey, ArtThrob asked two overseas visitors to the Biennale what their impressions were, and whether they felt the event is important enough in a world frame to justify the enormous effort of raising enough money to ensure a third staging of the event.

Emma Amos is an American painter, and a senior faculty member of the Mason Gross School of Art, Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

Q: What were the highlights of the Biennale for you?

A: The highlight was the distinctive South African art. In particular, I liked the work on the 'Graft' show in Cape Town - Pitso Chimzima's car, and Moshekwa Langa's yarn floor piece. And, of course, Thirty Minutes on Robben Island.

Q: And your overall impressions?

A: The curating looked terrific, there was no weak work. The South African art blended well with the international art. I liked the variety of activities offered to the visitors, and loved the atmosphere of the country.

Q: How do you think the Biennale will affect art world perceptions of South African art?

A: This should give a presence to South African art around the world. In fact, it already has.

Q: In view of the fact that South Africa is a poor country, and struggled to pay for the Biennale, do you think there should be a third event?

A: The Biennale should definitely be continued, but it doesn't always have to be so big. It could alternate with smaller exhibitions, which could break off and travel.




Kay Hassan
Shebeen 1997
Installation view


A painting by Ivory Coast
artist Outtara on
Alternating Currents

Kersten Danielsson of Sweden, ex director of the Kulturhuset in Stockholm, and now an independent curator and writer on art:

Q: What differences did you find from the first Biennale?

A: In 1995, there was a national presence - you walked from country to country. This time, the Electric Workshop was more aesthetically done as whole. The works adapted well to the space. You felt the thread of colonialism without it being too insistent. It was an airy approach. I particularly liked Ouattara's big paintings, the shebeen of Kaye Hassan, your piece with the bottles with the slaves' names - and the video of Shirin Neshat from Iran was very strong.

Q: Do you think that in spite of the difficulties, particularly financial, that have been experienced, we should persist with a third Biennale?

A: Oh, I hope you will! What I noticed in 1995 was that we were five or six people from Sweden, and this time it has spread and become part of the international art world very quickly. Every time you do this Biennale, people as a whole gain. It will be thought of as a tourist venue - it's very interesting as a meeting point for the international art world. People are counting on South Africa as a part of the art world.

In 1995, when I said I attended the first Biennale, everyone looked very questioning - but now it is accepted. Absolutely you should go on.

- ArtThrob would welcome any further comments from overseas visitors on any aspect of the Biennale. Please e-mail us.





The Trade Routes cover,
with a piece by Chilean artist
Alfredo Jaar



Keith Piper
Another Step into the Arena 1992
Video Installations

Another of British artist
Piper's installation could
be seen in the foyer of
the MuseumAfrica at the



Zwelethu Mthethwa
Untitled 1996
Colour photograph
Shown on 'Alternating Currents'
in the Electric Workshop

The 2nd Johannesburg Biennale Catalogue

Trade Routes: History and Geography, the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale is down and gone and all that remains is the catalogue - the record by which the event will be judged in future years. The problem with biennale catalogues is that the deadline for material is some four months before the show opens, which means that any new work being prepared for the show probably isn't finished yet, so the artist has to send a photograph of some other, hopefully similar but often quite different piece to be featured in the catalogue: thus the gap between what is on the wall and what is on the page. There is often talk at the opening of a biennale of plans for a second catalogue, one which will show the real work, but inevitably, lack of funds and post-opening malaise knocks this idea on the head.

But the catalogue is not just about what is actually on the show - it is about the artists themselves, the curatorial vision which shaped the individual shows, and the contextualising, by various international writers on art, of the entire exhibition in the global art world at that particular moment.

On the first point, Trade Routes fares badly. Artists were asked to send statements and background material about their work, but none of this was used. The editors contented themselves with abstracting bits from artists' CV's, and leaving it at that. My guess is, some artists did send stuff and others didn't, so the editors took the easy way out. This lack of insight into the artists' motivations has been redressed in part by half of the curators - Gerardo Mosquero, Kellie Jones and the admirable Yu Yeon Kim, who discuss the artists on their shows in their essays - but ignored by the others - Okwui Enwezor and Octavio Zaya, Colin Richards and Hou Hanru. Incidentally, this lack of information about the artists and their work, not only in the catalogue but also at the exhibition sites, was one of the main gripes heard about the Biennale from visitors.

Apart from that aspect, the stimulating and provocative essays by the curators and invited writers - including Francesco Bonami, US editor of Flash Art, Jean Fisher, editor of Third Text, and our own Ivor Powell and David Koloane (with an entertaining diversion from Ashraf Jamal) analyse the present and map out the shifting and uncertain future as the writers imagine it might be. A common theme is the speed at which the world as we know it is changing and mutating, and how cultural practioners are going to have to constantly reassess their own position if they are to act as visionaries.

The essays alone make the catalogue worth buying, and even if all the work pictured wasn't actually on the show, it still looks great on cleanly designed pages (Estudio Inc. New York), immaculately printed by Singapore National Press. The 412 page volume was funded by the Prince Claus Foundation of the Netherlands.

R215.00 from Exclusive Books, Johannesburg or the South African National Gallery, Cape Town.

... MWeb

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