TransKaroo Success? Overview of the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees
by Kathryn Smith
Organisers of the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees scored themselves a minor coup this year when they appointed Clive van den Berg to the post of visual arts co-ordinator of the Main Festival. As such, festival-goers can look forward to a tightly-knit group of exhibitions with only a few deviations.
The entire main visual arts program is sponsored by Sasol to the tune of R100 000. They are also sponsoring their own showcase exhibition of past prizewinners in the Sasol New Signatures Competition. The twelve artists include Brad Hammond, Minnette Vari, Anton Karstel and Wim Botha.
Other corporate sponsors are out in force with kykNET emerging as one of the most visible. In what should prove to be a hit show with audiences of all ages and inclinations, kykNET makes possible an exhibition of animated short films by artists, including Penny Siopis. The films are all looped onto a single tape and will be projected continuously throughout the duration of the exhibition.
'Drawing in Light' and 'Self' are two not-to-be-missed shows. The former takes the language and expertise of some of our most celebrated young and established artists, including Stephen Hobbs, Claudette Schreuders and Peter Schutz, and translates their line drawings into magical light installations. These will be displayed in an empty lot in the centre of town and is definitely a show to catch after sundowners. One of Clive van den Berg's best-known talents lies in the field of public art, and being able to convey challenging and relevant issues in a way that succeeds in being accessible and entertaining. 'Self' is a project that, while getting artists like William Kentridge, Brett Murray and Terry Kurgan to represent 'self', forces them to do so in linocut. Unusual it may sound, but it is Van den Berg's desire to lift this often misunderstood and under-utilised medium out of the "community art centre" stereotype and present it as something fresh and viable - and relatively inexpensive too. All works are editioned, so artbuyers should have a field day.
Finally, three additional exhibitions round off the main festival program. 'Shrapnel', curated by Koos van der Watt, sounds by far the most promising, with artists producing works around the landscapes and memories of the Anglo-Boer South African War, in a series of tent installations. Adriaan van Zyl and festival artist Wendy Malan, both painters, take the Karoo as their starting point in work that should appeal to more conservative audiences.
You can try getting up to date info at the KKNK website, www.karoofees.com, or check April ArtThrob next week for reviews.
Gallery 111 reopens after burglary
James de Villiers' intrepid efforts to reopen his experimental space after a burglary forced closure have borne fruit, and he is looking for artists to contribute to the opening festivities on April 1 at his new venue. Entries for submissions close on March 20. There is no entry fee. Live performance and music at the opening include Caos Harmonia's 'Anglo Boer War Cycle 1' by Andi Spicer. Interested people can contact James on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Installation view from 'Family Matters'
And the Vita nominees are...
by Kathryn Smith
Lens-based media are seriously coming into their own at the FNB Vita Art Prize. Nominees for 2000 were announced on Monday February 28 at a small ceremony at the Sandton Civic Gallery. Hentie van der Merwe (Johannesburg), Claudette Schreuders (Pretoria), Terry Kurgan (Cape Town) and Berni Searle (Cape Town) are this year's contenders. Not to detract from the excellent work produced by these artists during 1999, the general consensus amongst judges and officials is that 1999 was a somewhat "flat" year for choice. This probably explains their "less-is-more", approach, only deciding on four nominees out of a possible six. Except for Schreuders, all the nominated artists have made their mark in photo-based installations.
Artists are no longer only nominated for one specific work, although this can also be the case. To broaden the scope of the competition, the exhibitions in question need not be in South Africa. Van der Merwe was selected for His Master's Voice, which appeared on Babel Tower at the Johannesburg Civic Gallery. He has been exhibiting professionally since 1995. Schreuders was selected for her eight carved wood pieces on Liberated Voices - Contemporary Art from South Africa (Museum for African Art, New York). The Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet scored a double scoop with Kurgan nominated for her exhibition Family Affairs, and Searle for her show Colour Me, both hosted by Coetzee�s gallery.
The 2000 judging panel also experienced a face-lift, as many of the previous judges' terms were up last year. Judges are required to serve for three years. This year�s panel is an interesting and relatively "safe"� one, comprising Clive van den Berg, Pat Mautloa, David Koloane, Julia Charlton and Willem Boshoff.
But where the number of nominated artists decreased, the financial incentive has increased. Each artist receives an R 8 000 commissioning fee from FNB, with an additional contribution of R2 000 from the Goodman Gallery (good on you!). This commissioning fee (double that of last year's) is used to produce a work specifically intended for the Sandton Civic Gallery space. The winner, who will be announced at the exhibition opening in July, looks forward to a R30 000 first prize, an increase of R10 000 from last year's purse. In addition to this, MTN and IFAS have pledged their ever-impressive support to an extensive education programme around the exhibition, in demand for some time now.
In an ironic twist that exposed the truly internalised nature of the South African art scene, the public nominations draw for a weekend away at a safari lodge was won by none other than Berni Searle - for her nomination of Jean Brundrit. Perversely funny, it does make one think.
Given the artists� command of their chosen media, the 2000 FNB Art Prize exhibition has the potential to be very compelling. Viva the Vitas!
South African Art in the Nineties: Part I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII & VIII
By Sue Williamson
So quickly does time pass, that it is almost a surprise to realise that on the first day of the nineties, January 1, although noises were being made about the possible release of Nelson Mandela, few knew whether this would really happen, or what might result if it did. Instant assassination or re-arrest of the people's hero were two possibilities seriously discussed. Certainly the unbanning of the ANC was not anticipated. The art scene was still firmly in thrall to the cultural boycott, which restricted South African artists from showing overseas, and overseas artists from showing here. The big national showcase for South African art was still the Cape Town Triennial. Individual achievement was being recognised by the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, given to an artist under the age of 40, which gave the winner a show in the Monument Theatre at the Grahamstown Festival, accompanied by a catalogue. The 1989 Young Artist was Mmakgoba Helen Sebidi, still referred to at that time by her last two names only, and the 1990 joint winners were Fee Halsted Berning and Bonnie Ntshalintshali. The other large prize was more regional - the Vita Art Award was given for the best exhibition in Johannesburg in any one year - in 1991, Karel Nel was the Vita Award Winner. My book. Resistance Art in South Africa, (David Philip Publishers) had been launched at the end of 1989, grouping contemporary artists alongside the street artists and T-shirt designers in an attempt to give form to a previously undocumented aspect of the country's art scene.
The following year, 1991, was to see the last of the Cape Town Triennials. Initiatives by artists' groups like the Visual Arts Group in Cape Town and the Artists Alliance in Johannesburg to democratise the patriarchal patronage systems which dominated the national scene led to heavy criticisms of the way the sponsors, the Rembrandt Van Rijn Art Foundation, attempted to control the Triennial. The exhibition poster issued by the Foundation's publicity department featured not an artwork but a huge blowup of the company logo. Reportbacks from all the regional judging panels raised a number of other contentious issues, like the unfairness of a system which privileged certain art-educated artists above those not so privileged. It was suggested that a good portion of the prize money should be channelled into a workshop component. Stung by the criticisms and by clashes with the South African National Gallery administration under the directorship of Marilyn Martin, Rembrandt abruptly announced that there would be no further sponsorship.
The Triennial catalogue, unlike today's full colour publications, was in black and white. Colour was reserved for the three winning entries: the Rembrandt gold medal went to William Kentridge, for his video, Sobriety, obestity and getting old. Sandra Kriel won a merit award for her embroidered panels, Why are you afraid? on the subject of the role of women in the struggle, Willie Bester, who had had his first one-person exhibition the previous year, won the second for his collage painting, Crossroads, and the third went to Russell Scott, for his construction O.N.C.O.. Installation art as a form was almost unknown. By and large, traditional forms of artmaking dominated the selections: painting, sculpture and printmaking, though Neville Hoad exhibited a conceptual piece, a found piece of cardboard crudely lettered in black koki reading PLEASE.HELP.ME.NO.JOBS.NO.FOOD.EVERYONE HELP ME under the title The limitations of Social Realism.
Sculptor Andries Botha won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1991, combining wood, metal and rubber amongst other materials in his large scale sculptural tableaux. At the end of that year, I was honoured to be the first South African to be included in a post-apartheid biennale when my piece documenting the pages of one man's pass book, For Thirty Years Next to His Heart, was included on the Fourth Havana Biennial in Cuba.
The commercial gallery scene in the early nineties was dominated by the Goodman Gallery under the directorship of Linda Givon in Johannesburg, and the Gallery International under the almost equally formidable Esther Rousso in Cape Town. These two vied to show the leading artists, with the galleries of the South African Association of Arts in Cape Town, Pretoria, and in Durban, the Natal Society of Arts taking up the slack. The Market Theatre in downtown Johannesburg prided itself on showing more risky and cutting edge stuff, and elsewhere in the city, one of the first alternative galleries of note, the F.I.G. - the Famous International Gallery - opened its doors at the corner of Troye and Jeppe Streets in 1990, founded by Wayne Barker and Morris la Mancha. Ricky Burnett, who had broken new curatorial ground with his 'Tributaries' exhibition which placed art objects previously regarded as craft next to so-called high art pieces in his 1985 exhibition, thus setting a trend for such shows, opened the doors of the Newtown Galleries opposite the Market Theatre in 1991. FUBA, the Federated Union of Black Artists was right next door, a flea market held every Saturday drew huge crowds to the area, and at that time, the precinct was a lively hub of creative energy.
William Kentridge & Doris Bloom
By 1992, South Africa was clearly on the road to its first democratic election, and the beginning of 1993 brought a belated invitation to the 45th Venice Biennale to be opened in June of that year. It was the first time South Africa would be represented at this significant international exhibition in 27 years. Selection was entrusted to the South African Association of Arts under the presidency of Louis Jansen van Vuuren. Countries at the Biennale are usually represented by one or at most, three artists, but in 1993, South Africa, in an attempt to be as representative as possible, sent the work of no less than 27 artists. The most important selections, showing in the Italian Pavilion in the Giardini di Castello, were , visionary sculptor Jackson Hlungwane and fabric artist Sandra Kriel. Ceramicist Bonnie Ntshalintshali was selected for 'Aperto', generally regarded to be the cutting edge of the Biennale, and 24 more artists could be seen at the Palazzo Giustinian Lolin. Though no State funding was available for participating artists to attend, most of the white artists made the trip. Too late, the organisers realised there would not be a single black artist at the opening, and sent a hurried message to Jackson Hlungwane that an air ticket would be made available to him. Carving away on his hillside in the far north of the country, Hlungwane declined, sending back this classic reply: "The message is good, but the radio is bad."
Off the beaten track in Venice the auxilliary exhibition might have been, but enough curious visitors found their way there to send out the message: "South Africa is back in the game." And then, too, Christopher Till, Director of Culture for the city of Johannesburg, chose the event to make known to the world that Johannesburg was in fact planning its own Biennale, less than two years in the future, and would be looking for the full support of the international art world in this venture. The idea had been the brainchild of Lorna Ferguson, ex director of Maritzburg's Tatham Gallery, and Ferguson and Till were to become partners in planning and selling the first Johannesburg Biennale to the world.
With the dawning of 1994, with the first democratic election now clearly in view, what better way for an international art person to get a piece of the new action than to go and see what was happening in that little bit of Africa until so recently in the political wasteland? Under the tutelage of AICA, the Africus Institute of Contemporary Art, funded by the city of Johannesburg, curators and museum people from around the world began making the trip down south. The premise of the first Biennale was to invite leading curators from a number of countries to put together shows involving their own artists with local selections. For instance, French curator Jean Hubert Martin's selections included Christian Boltanski, Thomas Hirschorn, and local artist Ian Waldeck. South African curators included Kendell Geers, who snared such international luminaries as Janine Antoni and Ilya Kabakov, and Emma Bedford, curating an all South African show under the title 'Objects of Defiance, Spaces of Contemplation.' On the Fringe, Wayne Barker scored something of a coup with a show entitled 'Laager' - a ring of shipping containers with one artist to transform each space. 'Laager' was set up in the open space between two of the main hubs of the Biennale, the old Electric Workshop, dramatically transformed for its new role as art venue, and the MuseumAfrica. The show was vibrant enough to elicit an invitation to the artists to restage the show in Chile.
Another of the successful aspects of this Biennale was a programme which looked at redressing the abysmal lack of young curatorial skills in the country - each host curator took on one young South African as an intern, a programme which has led to the development of such talents as Clive Kellner and Tumela Mosaka.
Of course, within the country, not everyone was in favour of the Biennale in the first place. To many it seemed that at a time when overseas funding for local community art projects was drying up (the battle against the State being seen as won), that the vast expenditure needed to bring a Biennale into being could have been much better spent building up grassroots skills and initiatives. The elite are catering for the elite, ran this argument. Our people do not even have the money for the most basic art materials. We cannot afford this kind of grandiose gesture. Countering this, Christopher Till would continue to point out over the next few years that for the powerful international art vistors who came to Johannesburg especially for the occasion, it was an education into the situation here, and that any number of the large and small exhibitions and art opportunities which arose for South African artists in the following years could be traced back directly to the Biennale.
And what was happening on the collection front? In 1992, in a special issue of the City of Johannesburg, South Africa's only art journal of note at the time, ADA, Art Design Architecture, had this to say under the heading of Corporate Art: "As the commercial centre of South Africa, Johannesburg is home to many corporate head offices, and the base for their art collections, some of which date back to the 30's. Serious collecting with business of shareholder money is a relatively new area of investment. Even so, a number of corporations prefer to remain silent about their activity, believing that public knowledge of expenditure on fine art assets will anger the trade unions. In terms of visible involvement in the arts, several big businesses come to mind: The Rembrandt Foundation (based in Cape Town and Stellenbosch), The Standard Bank of SA and Sasol".
Thanks in no small way to one of South Africa's most visible artists, Kendell Geers, this modest approach to corporate collection was about to change.
Willem Boshoff with Psephos 1995
An image of Ernest Cole's
In 1994, the Johannesburg mining house Gencor appointed Geers as art consultant, with a brief to build up a corporate collection, giving him a restricted budget but what amounted to a free artistic rein. The core of the collection, installed in the lift lobbies, consisted of ten works embodying the spirit of the new dispensation by such artists as Willem Boshoff, Willie Bester, Durant Sihlali and Penny Siopis. Dozens more works hang on the passage walls. As the chairman of Gencor was to write in the catalogue, published in 1997, "One day, early last year, I found a group of unskilled labourers ...in animated argument around the Trevor Makhoba work that hangs in room 477. Never had this happened around the pastoral scenes of our earlier era. Perhaps that is the real measure of good art - Everyman cannot avoid involvement." In recent years, Gencor's example has led to the foundation of other progressive art collections by such companies as MNet and Vodacom.
Overall, the promotion of South African art has always been kept back by weak infrastructure and a chronic shortage of money. Take the case of art journals. Documentation of the country's art activities at the beginning of the nineties resided in the quarterly magazine of the SA Association of Arts, distributed free to members, which limited itself to reportage on activities and artists related to its galleries, and ADA magazine an extremely handsome publication which in spite of winning an award as best magazine in the country, came out at long irregular intervals, never managing to convince advertisers to buy sufficient space to guarantee its survival in the market place. The last issue of ADA was to appear in the mid nineties. In 1993, the country's most highly respected art critic, Ivor Powell of the then Weekly Mail, became editor of a new publication which would supersede the old SAAA Calendar: Ventilator. A promising first issue with great design and well written articles met an enthusiastic reception from the art world. But the same problem - lack of advertising money to finance publication - would force the closure of Ventilator after the launch issue. ArtThrob, the monthly magazine on contemporary art first went online in August 1997 and is now updated weekly, but not until 1999 would there be another attempt at the launch of a printed art journal. This time, the question of money would be sidestepped by garnering sufficient sponsorship to distribute the magazine free. Co@rtnews, under the editorship of Clive Kellner and Fernando Alvim, considers culture in the entire African continent, and has now produced its second issue.
But to get back to the artists and the work that they make. How has this developed in this decade of radical societal change? Following world trends, artists began quite early in the decade to utilise such forms as installation art, and that favoured form of the international art world, video, is slowly taking hold. In 1999, one of the first all-video shows, Channel, was curated by Robert Weinek at the Association for Visual Arts in Cape Town, featuring a number of video installations by such artists as Malcolm Payne, Bridget Baker and Stephen Hobbs, and a row of monitors with looped contributions from many more artists.
To discuss shifts in the way in which artists have attempted to deal with the transformative aspects of the new society is far more complex, and beyond the scope of a brief overview. It was this aspect of course: just how artists were dealing with the new dispensation, that captured the attention of a number of curators, both South African and international. Stimulated by the first and second Johannesburg Biennales and a sense of breaking virgin ground, a large number of survey type group shows were curated into being. One only has to look at the titles of these shows to sense the thrust of their curatorial intentions: Colours (1996), Don't Mess with Mr In-Between (1997), Passages (1997), Rewind Fast Forward .ZA (1999), Emergence, (1999), Liberated Voices, (1999). Inevitably, the quality of these shows varied. While many seem to have met with a measure of critical acclaim abroad, a reading of those foreign reviews is revealing. One finds a distance, a careful attention to political correctness, a desire to applaud the initiative, a sometimes quaint linking of the news of the show to such information as the fact that Michael Jackson is househunting in South Africa. Closer to home, critics, notably Brenda Atkinson of the Mail & Guardian, the country's most highly regarded newspaper, have become increasingly vociferous in their cutting analysis of these shows. The main criticism is that lack of curatorial rigour and attempts by curators to be too inclusive, too broad, too representative of the demographic situation within the country have resulted in a kaleidoscopic rather than a focussed look at the subject. Nonetheless, it must not be forgotten that to foreign audiences, these shows have often served as an enlightening and absorbing introduction to the art of a country of which they knew almost nothing.
Editor's note: This subject has proved too large for the three instalments originally envisaged. The series will continue next week, and look at the 'post-apartheid kids', the second Biennale and its aftermath, and the role of museums in the nineties.
In fact, the reconnection of South African artists to the rest of Africa and to the world was undoubtedly the most important development of the decade. The acceptance of South Africa as an African country and not just a strangely perverted colonial hybrid was established with events like the Johannesburg Biennales, the invitations to South Africans to participate in events like the Dakar Biennales, and the inclusion in Britain's africa95 - a large scale initiative celebrating the arts of Africa which took place in Britain from August to December 1995.
"After too many years of neglect, contemporary African art is at last finding an international audience for its wide variety of productions - works that are frequently astonishing and always challenging, read the opening blurb of the catalogue for 'Seven Stories', the keynote show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. The 'story' from South Africa was curated by veteran David Koloane, and entitled 'Moments in Art'. The show included such diverse artists as abstract practitioner Kevin Atkinson and collage artists Sam Nhlengethwa, Patrick Mautloa and Norman Catherine.
The year 1995 also marked the occasion of the 46th Venice Biennale. The official invitation for South Africa's participation lay around on the desk of the Association of Arts until almost too late, a little noticed and somewhat frantic last minute appeal was made to artists to submit proposals. Well aware that there was no pavilion space and no funding to rent space, Malcolm Payne, to 'achieve a dramatic presence' at the Biennale, proposed constructing three walls facing onto the pavilions of three countries involved in the history of Africa, which would read as 'sentinels or beacons recalling the past' and also be symbolic of the rebuilding process of South Africa. His request was trilaterally refused. Payne's final solution was to erect his walls in the gardens where all the national pavilions are located. The piece was called: Untitled (U.S.A.), Untitled (Holland), Untitled (U.K.) s and consisted of three stark terracotta walls built in the lush gardens of the Giardini di Castello, containing glass fronted niches with commissioned art objects relating to identity made by Brett Murray, Patrick Mautloa, and Randolph Hartzenberg.
Here at home, the largest show to mark the second half of the nineties was the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale of 1997. The first Biennale had been directed by Christopher Till and Lorna Ferguson, but now it was decided to cast the net wider, and the proposal finally accepted was that of Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian curator living in New York, with his proposed theme of Trade Routes and Geography.
Further renovations were carried out on the Electric Workshop, which would host the flagship show Alternating Currents, curated by Enwezor and Octavio Zaya, turning it into a stunning exhibition space, with its huge volumes and industrial architecture. Chronic financial problems continued to dog the planning right up to the last minute, but generous support from overseas institutions allowed the Biennale to open its doors to reveal an exhibition which over the following months, in international art journals, would be widely hailed by overseas commentators as a landmark in Biennales. In the Electric Workshop, contributions by such international art stars as Stan Douglas, Pepon Osorio, Les Carpinteros, Steve McQueen Shirin Neshat and Ouattara shared space with local artists such as Kay Hassan, Penny Siopis and Pat Mautloa. In a laudatory piece in ArtForum, Dan Cameron, senior curator of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York was to write: "It's impossible to deny the growing awareness that global art has finally passed from pipe dream to the paradigm of our times."
The local press was less congratulatory, going so far as to label the Biennale a fraud. In truth, although the show was an extraordinary visual feast for those schooled in the language of contemporary art, Enwezor's decision not to put up explanatory wall notes and the difficulty of locating catalogues made the work somewhat inaccessible to a middle-of-the-road audience. Add to the bad local press and the apathy of the general public the perceived crime factor of lower Johannesburg, and you have a formula for a massively under-attended Biennale. Presumably it is hard for those in charge of the purse strings, - in this case, the Metropolitan Council of Johannesburg, to take a world view. Whatever the bureaucratic reasoning , in mid December came the shock announcement of the preliminary closing of the Johannesburg wing of the Biennale, originally scheduled to run until early February, on the grounds of insufficient funds. Rallying of local forces extended the running time until January 18, but the damage to Johannesburg's growing reputation as the premier city for contemporary art on the continent had been done. The confidence of overseas funders had been shaken. In the shake up, the city also ceased to fund AICA, and director Bongiwe Dhlomo and her staff found themselves out of work. An entire infra-structure was destroyed in one blow.
Steven Cohen, in drag, thrown out of centenary celebrations by Neo Nazis
Subsequent attempts to re-launch the Biennale initiative have foundered. Under Christopher Till, a fresh proposal was launched: Ubuntu was to be an international exhibition, but with the emphasis on art in public spaces, where it would be far more accessible. For whatever reasons, and efforts by ArtThrob last year to find out last year what had happened to Ubuntu were met with silence, this initiative too seems to have dissipated. The invigorating effect of cultural tourism on the economy and the crucial importance to a country of developing a rich culture are factors which seem to be totally ignored by those with the power to fund such events. It has been said that art will never be taken seriously in this country until the politicians take it seriously. The first two Biennales, in their scale and boldness, positioned Johannesburg as the premier city in Africa in the presentation of contemporary art. This position, and the influx of international art visitors, has now been lost to Cairo and Dakar, with their Biennales. With the announcement this week of the artists selected for the Dak'Art 2000 to be held in May, although by the standards of the Johannesburg Biennale a modest total of 21 participants, Dak'Art is clearly going from strength to strength.
But in the end, although it was by far the biggest, the 2nd Biennale was only one of a number of important exhibitions carving out fresh ground which characterised the nineties. With a new government in place, artists and curators moved to claim spaces which had formerly been off limits because of their associations with the apartheid state. The Cape Town Castle, built in 1658 by the original Dutch settlers who arrived to grow fresh vegetables for the sailors on their ships on their way to the Far East, and during the apartheid years, headquarters of the South African Defence Force, is a case in point. In mid 1995, seven young artists under the general direction of Wayne Barker mounted a show called 'Scurvy', scurvy being the skin disease contracted by sailors who didn't eat fresh vegetables. The show addressed issues around the history of the Castle, with Lisa Brice drawing parallels between the fortifications at the Castle and the modern suburban home surrounded with high security fences against crime. Brett Murray considered the conflation between indigenous cultural objects and tourist trash, and Barker himself positioned the Dutch East India Company as the first multinational - his world map made of green bottles set in a sea of old khaki military uniforms had the logo of the Company, V.O.C., flashing in neon at Cape Town.
The old stone walls and interleading rooms of the Castle lend themselves easily to art, and 'Scurvy' was followed by 'Sluice', a series of installations, performances, and plastic tubes of running water by a group of Cape Town students, and a significant show which considered issues around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 'Faultlines' (1996), curated by Jane Taylor. In January 1998, a powerful show reflecting on the effects of war in Africa was mounted at the Castle, spearheaded by Angolan artist Fernando Alvim, and including Cuban artist Carlos Garocaia and Capetonian Gavin Younge. 'Intimas, Marcos, Memorias' was to continue to the Electric Workshop in Johannesburg, gathering steam, new work and additional artists as it went, and from there to the African Window in Pretoria, where some critics considered it reached a zenith. The show is now on the international circuit. Later that year, the Terry Kurgan curated show 'Bringing Up Baby' arrived from the Grahamstown National Art Festival, and marked a change in curatorial direction from the generally political to the personally political: artists made work around the issues of childbearing and parenting.
On Robben Island, transformed from the world's most infamous political prison to a museum, now a world cultural heritage site, nine artists installed work in the tiny cubicles divided by a glass window where prisoners once received visits from their visitors. The show, mounted in 1997, was called 'Thirty Minutes' - the length of time of a prison visit. Although up for almost two years and lauded in a number of overseas publications, the exhibition was seen by few - the island management did not seem to support the exhibition, and visitors to the island were given 15 minutes at the end of their tour to see either the penguins or 'Thirty Minutes'. In Cape Town's District Six, site of one of the apartheid states most public removal programmes, more than 80 artists mounted outdoor projects on Heritage Day, September 24, in 1997, a day which also featured music and celebrations.
January 1998 was to see an initiative up north when Kendell Geers decided to intervene with the centenary celebrations of a right-wing icon, Fort Klapperkop, situated just outside Pretoria. Geers announced that he would lock himself into the building in the name of art, and that all of the other activities planned by the various Afrikaner groups for the centenary day, like prayers and flaghosting, to mark the event would become part of his artwork, a subsidiary role furiously denied by the groups concerned. "People have told me not scratch where it doesn't itch", said Geers at the time, "But that's my job. I set out to draw attention to the unspoken, and not only in relation to Afrikaner nationalism. I've made a site-specific work that explores the mechanisms and depths of guilt." After a week of controversy about the invitations and the posters in which the sponsors, the French Institute, withdrew, the exhibition was cancelled On the day of the celebrations, Geers was nowhere to be seen,and it was left to friend and fellow artist, drag performer Steven Cohen, who had driven out to Fort Klapperkop in support of Geers to hold the day for art. Dressed in blonde wig and black dress, Cohen was shown off the premises by AWB heavies. "I was also in the army. I have a right to be here too", he shouted as he left. Later he was to say. "I didn't expect such a violent reaction. I wanted to see if Afrikaans culture could make way for this kind of thing."
Later that year, 1998, Steven Cohen was to be announced winner of the Vita Art Prize over the head of such a powerful contender as William Kentridge, fresh from a showing at Documenta X. The Vita Art Prize, South Africa's most coveted award, had undergone a considerable metamorphosis in the nineties. At the beginning of the decade, the prize of R10 000 was awarded for the best exhibition in Johannesburg in any one year. Quarterly winners and runners up would be announced, all of whom would show their exhibition work in the Award Show held in the Johannesburg Art Gallery the following year. At the opening of this event, an overall winner and two runners up would be handed award cheques to a background of polite applause.
From 1991 to 1996 the winners were Karel Nel, Andries Botha, William Kentridge, Guy du Toit, Sue Williamson, and as joint winners in 1996, Jane Alexander and Kevin Brand. The problem with this cumbersome system was that firstly, the work the artists showed was often now more than a year old , with so many exhibitors, the exhibition was a bit of a mish mash, and finally, it was limited to artists showing in the Johannesburg area. Annual rumblings of discontent became heard. In 1997, a new system was devised, based loosely on Britain's prestigious Turner Prize. Five artists nominated by a committee and by the public based on their previous year's performance would each receive R4 000 to make a new piece to be shown later in the year on the Award Show. The venue would move to the Sandton Civic Art Gallery, under the energetic direction of Natasha Fuller. The Vita Award thus gained focus, freshness and prestige. The first Vita, (now R15 000) under the new system went to Willem Boshoff in 1997, Steven Cohen won in 1998 for his outrageous performances in drag, and most recently, Jo Ractliffe won in 1999 for a multi screen video projection.
There is an award with a much bigger pot of gold available - yet somehow an air of provincialism clings to it, and no-one seems to pay it much attention. This is the ABSA Atelier award for artists between the ages of 21-35. Regional submissions from artists are followed by a national judging in Pretoria. There is a prize of R60 000 and an air ticket to Paris, where the winner resides for some months in an apartment in the Cite des Arts, before returning to make a post-Parisian exhibition of work. The most recent winner of this award was Johannesburg's Ryan Arenson.
The last of the big three prizes of the South African art world is the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, for the under forties, always tied in with the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. The winner's work is shown in the unprepossessing gallery in the Monument Theatre, (when will they get rid of that cheap grey carpet) and thereafter tours the major art galleries of the country, accompanied by a catalogue. In the first part of the nineties, with the anxious struggle for political correctness, it was said that one could tell who would win the award - if it was a white female last year, this year it would go to a black male. Perhaps the standout winner of this period was Jane Alexander, in 1995, with the powerful mixed media sculptures of her 'Integration Programme' series, reflecting the confusions and difficulties of the times.
The Grahamstown Festival, whatever it may have done for the development of theatre in this country, does not have a good record on the visual arts. Apart from the Monument Theatre Gallery, a real kiss-of-death number with its office-like interior, there is the stark Gallery in the Round, a space carved out under the main theatre stage after a fire raged through the building. Kendell Geers and Bili Bidjocka were the first to show there with their Heart of Darkness installation in 1998, followed last year by William Kentridge with his multi-screen video projection Ulisse Echo. The Gallery in the Round is the only good venue in Grahamstown. Otherwise, there is the colonial Albany Museum, host over the years to such large survey shows as Clive van den Berg's 'Passages' and the Julia Charlton/Fiona Rankin Smith 'Emergence'. With the best curatorial will in the world, attempts to mount cleanly hung shows in the Albany Museum generally come to nought, victim to all the other quilters and watercolourists and others who seem to lay claim to the space.
One year, 1994, Linda Givon decided to brave it and show Grahamstown how a good Johannesburg show should look, and took her Goodman Gallery artists to the Glennie Exhibition Centre in the Victoria Primary School. A fine show it was too, clean white space, good lighting, a row of brilliantly hued paintings from Robert Hodgins and Norman Catherine and a joint cut paper and charcoal wall drawing installation by Hodgins and Kentridge. It was certainly an antidote to all those hippyfied offerings elsewhere around the town. But it was quiet. Too quiet. In subsequent years, Givon would confine her efforts to the main gallery spaces in the Monument.
In 1997, Oudsthoorn began to wonder why Grahamstown should have all the fun, and mounted the first of the Klein Karoo Arts Festivals. The aim was to celebrate Afrikaans culture, but also to show how this culture had now declared itself to be open, and free to assimilate other cultural influences. The first of these festivals will be remembered mainly for the fact that singer Miriam Makeba was assaulted vociferously with the k-word, and pelted with beer cans as she sang on the stage. "We regret", said Ton Vosloo of Nasionale Pers, main sponsors of the event, " that a minority tried to spoil a beautiful attempt to keep Afrikaans as broad as possible".
There were those who questioned whether after such an inauspicious beginning, the festival could regain credibility and continue, but by 1999, the Klein Karoo Kunsfees was getting into its stride, mounting the kind of art shows which should make Grahamstown look to its laurels.
Andrew Porter & Elias Pienaar
Peter Eastman and Matthew Hindley
"By proudly positioning itself in the centre of Oudtshoorn's main thoroughfare, 'Oos Wes, Tuis Bes' (East West, Home's Best) unpretentiously deflates the traditional confines of the gallery," wrote Lauren Shantell in ArtThrob of April '99. "Instead, it offers itself to the teeming masses, who unceremoniously poked, prodded and even laughed at its 14 wendy-house structures, before becoming perplexed and amazed by the individual installations on show." The show was curated by Mark Coetzee and and Liza Hugo, and the structures were small, wooden garden-shed type cabins, each artist being allocated one for a project. Lize Grobler engaged the local women in the making of her piece - inviting them to crochet hundreds of wool squares made into a protective covering for her house. Bridget Baker made her little wooden house a testament to her past, filling the space with old letters and mothballs, to be glimpsed through knitted walls, and Randolph Hartzenberg filled his space with his familiar trademark of bags of salt, symbols of sustenance and pain.
Elsewhere in the town, 14 pairs of artists and writers battled it for creative ascendancy or collaborated successfully in twinned works on 'Bloedlyn' (Bloodline) in a show curated by Lien Botha, a show strong enough to withstand the transplant to Cape Town's AVA gallery later in the year.
With the spilling out of art into public spaces, and the trend for artists to curate shows, another change to be marked up for the nineties is the sheer number of shows, both here and overseas, in which today's recognised artists are invited to participate. This proliferation of art events has of course, has also much to owe to the new communication processes, email and the internet, which have radically speeded up the time needed to get a show organised. At the beginning of the nineties, a curator who wished an artist to participate in a show would send a letter by mail. Even fax machines - or in artists' studios, anyway - were still a rarity at the beginning of the decade, and a letter would be posted back, expressing interest. All this took time. Slides of current work would be posted to the curator, selections would be made, and eventually everything would be organised. Today, an emailed request from a curator can be answered immediately - the artist usually has on file in the computer statements about various pieces, and JPEG images of the work which can be emailed with them. Click click and the latest updated cv joins the package. Ironically, all of this electronic energy saving does not give the artist more time to make work in the studio, as one might imagine. Before, one letter a month to be answered would be plenty. Now each day brings a fresh crop of emails, all to be dealt with. Want to make a friendship sculpture for a town in China? An equine image for a group in Texas? Even if you have not been invited directly, you can click on to the Exchange page of ArtThrob or some other art website to read about these and a selection of other far flung opportunities waiting to be taken up.
So what role has the internet played in democratising the art world? Hailed at one time as the means whereby the traditional enclaves of curatorial and institutional power controlling access to shows and selections can be electronically bypassed, the web has partially allowed this to happen. But what is also clear is that possession of access to the www has become a gateway in itself. Those artists - and this includes most black artists in this country - who do not have easy access to computer facilities are denied what has become the easiest and most often used method of getting information in and out.
Museums, too, have become part of the electronic network, most hosting their own web-page of varying complexity. Sites like Museums Online allow overseas visitors to Cape Town to see exactly what is on offer before they come, in order to facilitate their planning.
Museums and their changing role in the South Africa of the 90's is a subject worthy of a thesis. Here, we will have to sum up the situation by saying that all the major art institutions are struggling to come to terms with what a museum can or can't be. And with how, on a miniscule budget, one can draw in an audience which is not in the habit of museum-going, while at the same time fulfilling the traditional role of a museum in building up a sound and exciting collection of contemporary art which will be a fine reflection of the country's artists.
The Johannesburg Art Gallery, situated as it is in Joubert Park, near Johannesburg's main station, is possibly in the worst situation. At the beginning of the decade, it was still pulling in good audiences for its shows, but sadly a sharp increase in muggings in the area has largely eliminated a general audience. Parking outside during the 2nd Biennale, I was told by a security guard, waving his arm at an area just past the museum, "Don't go over there. They're shooting people over there today." Hardly conducive to encouraging nervous foreigners.
More cheerfully, the Durban Art Gallery, in the city's heart, has led the way in instituting in 1998 a new kind of museum experience - the art/dance/music/performance party, held on a regular basis and attracting huge young audiences to the monthly Redeye event. Under the guidance of Public Eye, a group of artists involved in organising public art events, the South African National Gallery followed suit in 1999 with Softserve, a gallery wide event which attracted an unprecedented audience of 1500, many of them in the museum for the first time. Coloured lighting changed the vibe throughout the gallery, guests danced wildly in the atrium, there was live link up to New York in the deejay room, and a programme of performance art ran through the evening. Redeye and Softserve seem set to continue in the new decade.
And perhaps the dream of many artists will be realised: that the major cities get new spaces, contemporary art museums, without the baggage of mediocre bequest work which must be shown. Spaces where experimental work will be welcomed, and no one will feel intimidated. Spaces where contemporary art can intrigue and puzzle and delight and act as the stimulus to viewers which is within its power.
In this final episode of the series, it is appropriate to look at the artists, without whom there would be no exhibitions, no galleries, no museums, no curators, no critics, no art world. How have they come through the nineties? By 1990, Paul Stopforth, arguably the most acclaimed artist of the early 80's, and still quoted as an ongoing influence by such artists as Jane Alexander, had left for the United States, where he has been teaching at Tufts University in Boston, and working ever since. One of his best known works, The Interrogators (1979), a chilling portrait in graphic and wax of the police officers responsible for the death of Steve Biko is currently touring the United States in the 'Liberated Voices' exhibition. His work has just been the subject of a large retrospective.
Another influence still strongly felt in spite of his absence - drugs prescribed for illness led to depression and his suicide in August, 1990 at the age of 33 - is that of Johannesburg artist Neil Goedhals. Goedhals was a conceptual artist who once said he attempted to paint in a 'styless style'. In a catalogue essay by Michelle Jersky and Rhoda Rosen for a retrospective exhibition of the artist's work held in 1993, he is portrayed as being knowledgeable about artworks and concepts from many different periods, as well as being fascinated by images in comics, phone directories and other similar publications. To him, the distinction between high art and popular culture was an artificial one, an attitude which can clearly be traced in the work of many of the younger artists of the nineties.
Some of the artists who were recognised as frontrunners in 1990 are still up there, still steadily producing powerful work. Jane Alexander, Patrick Mautloa, Penny Siopis, William Kentridge, to name a handful. Kentridge in particular, who recalls only 10 years ago trudging around Manhattan futilely trying to persuade galleries to look at his slides, has now reached the ultimate level of international artworld stardom. Last year, he won the Carnegie International Prize in the United States. His solo museum shows follow each other so rapidly they overlap. His name is frequently mentioned casually in art journals in stories about other artists, the standard by which they are being measured: a sure sign of enormous influence. He is part of the Phaidon series of catalogues on contemporary artists, an honour said to be more desirable to British artists than winning the Turner.
Behind Kentridge, although still at this point considerably behind, is a whole slew of other artists, who since the ending of the cultural boycott and the new interest in South African art and artists are also being increasingly swept up into the international circuit. Kay Hassan, first winner of the newly instituted Daimler/Chrysler prize last year, will have an individual exhibition at the upcoming Dak'Art 2000 biennale in Senegal. Zwelethu Mthethwa, once known for his expressionistic pastels, now works entirely in the photographic medium, and it seems few of the so-called multi-cultural international exhibitions feel they can do without his humanistic and beautiful photographs of black South Africans taken in their own homes. Kendell Geers, the fast talking and dogmatic theorist who seems to delight in getting up everyone's nose has been showing his video installations across Europe, and was the only other South African artist besides Kentridge to be represented on the Carnegie International.
And then there are the post-apartheid kids, a phrase coined by one of them, Stephen Hobbs, to describe those artists who only started on their careers as artists after that day in February 1990 which marked the beginning of the end of apartheid. As Hobbs describes it, although this generation is fully conscious that apartheid is an ineradicable part of our history, it is history, and there is no longer any pressure for younger artists to deal with it.
The new subject for artists to tackle became: identity. "Who am I in this new South Africa? How do the prejudices/privileges which came about because my family was black/white/coloured/mixed/indian/other/Afrikaans affect me now? How can I reflect these cross cultural influences in my work?" This is a somewhat simplistic way of presenting the problem, but in a country so deeply dependent on the complexities of heritage for one's received identity, these questions are often hard and painful. The work that has emerged from this soul searching and perusing of family archives has often been sharp, honest, and conceptually strong.
One thinks here of the work of two of the artists who have recently been nominated for this year's Vita awards: Berni Searle, with her photographic installations which relate her own body to the spice trade, the historical event which first brought slaves from the east to the Cape, and Claudette Schreuders, with her carved and painted wooden figures representing her family history. Others whose work broadly encompasses this area are Tracey Rose, currently undertaking a residency at the prestigious ArtPace Foundation for Contemporary Art in San Antonio, Texas, Senzeni Marasela, Brett Murray, with the laying bare of his family history in Guilt and Innocence 1962-1990, Bridget Baker's work, which centres around her conservative upbringing, and of course, the irrepressible Moshekwa Langa.
Langa left school in 1993, spent a year making things with discarded materials like plastic and paper cement sacks in the backyard of his house, put them on exhibition at the Rembrandt Gallery in 1995, and caused enough of a sensation to carry him on to a two year stint at the Rijks Akademie in Amsterdam, and a series of museum shows. Stories of Langa abound: how he calls friends from the back of a limo, "I'm being driven around Philadelphia by a blue-rinsed old lady", how he gets on planes with a television crew in tow, and demands toys from the hostesses so he can make art in the air.
But Langa's complex art seeks to address fundamental issues of identity and history while avoiding easy classification. "Through the use of his own mapping devices of erasure, annotation and recording, he inscribes the cartography of his own identity on to that which previously sought to control through definition," wrote curator Lorna Ferguson about his entry for the 1998 Sao Paolo Biennale. "Yet he resists the idea that one can possess one's own identity". "My work is not about anything", said Langa himself once. "My work has to do with things."
Another aspect of the search for identity is that of sexuality. Artists like Hentie van der Merwe and Clive van den Berg are uncovering the previously hidden history of the repression of homosexuality in this country. Photographer Jean Brundrit, in her wittily titled 1999 exhibition'Lavender Menace' deconstructed the prejudices against lesbianism. Peet Pienaar, in his performances, threw the homoerotic aspects of the nation's premier sport, rugby, into sharp focus.
Such is the depth of the South African scene, that only a small portion of the fine artists working have been mentioned here. One only has to go through past artbios in ArtThrob to discover numerous others. Their history is beginning to be recorded. Catalogues are becoming more available. Some artists, like Lisa Brice, have managed to produce one through a gallery, and the supportive French Institute in Johannesburg has financed a number of others, and is even now starting on a new series of publications which, in conjunction with Chalkham Hill Press, will come out quarterly, focussing on the individual production of such artists as Wayne Barker.
To my mind, it is extraordinary that the art scene in South Africa is so vigorous given the thinness of the infrastructure, the lack of funding, the lack of resources for underprivileged art students, the fact that the South African National Gallery is so poor it cannot even buy art journals for its library, the fact that there is not a single functioning large exhibition space devoted to contemporary art in the whole country. In a recent article, Dr Ben Ngubane, Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology had this to say: "There is no doubt that the arts are under-funded. The proportion of our GDP allocated to the arts is far lower than countries with comparable economies, such as Brazil and Mexico. Provincial and local government, with minor exceptions, are remiss when to comes to supporting the arts, and expect national government to foot the bill for the most local of projects. The private sector which has recently shown increased commitment to the arts in its support of Business Arts South Africa, (BASA), has a long way to go before it can be called a patron of the arts, The only significant source of funding is the department of arts, culture, science and technology, and its budget is inadequate. Consider the arts legacy that the department inherited in 1994 ...the visual arts were not eligible for funding. They survived largely through foreign aid, which has subsequently dried up."
Perhaps it is the culture of making-do which has made South African artists strong. The artists know that if they wish to make work, they will have to make it with little outside help. One looks at artists like Willie Bester, Patrick Mautloa and Kay Hassan who find their materials on the scrap heap and build them into powerful works. Whatever it is that drives the country's artists forward, it will be interesting indeed to see what the new decade brings.