Archive: Issue No. 72, August 2003

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Wilhelm van Rensburg
Date: June 18
Subject: Beeld

I note, with interest, that under the 'Artists in Press' entry in your 'News' section you draw exclusively from Mail & Guardian and Sunday Independent. Ever heard of Beeld? We do extensive reviews and crits of all the major exhibitions in Johannesburg and Pretoria and I am sure some of the ArtThrob readers may be interested to read what other critics have to say as well, albeit in Afrikaans.

Wilhelm van Rensburg

Thanks for pointing out our elitist tendencies. Wilhelm, if you could forward translated copies of what you adjudge to be your better published pieces, I would gladly consider publishing them. Also, why not add to my news story that lists art writers and critics. I know it is hopelessly inadequate and missing more than a handful of names. - ed.

Katherine Smith katherinesmith21@hotmail.com
Date: June 18
Subject: Searching for an artist's name

Several years ago (around 1996) I visited Parliament in Cape Town. There was an artist exhibiting several pencil/ charcoal drawings of mothers and their babies etc. They have always stuck in my mind. I can't seem to find any information on the artist. I live in London, so I have to rely on the internet in order to search for info. All I have is his first name, Ernest, and then a vague memory of 'Poignot-Ernest', something French. Can you help at all?

It doesn't sound familiar to me, perhaps a reader can help you. PE

Kristi threehappylions@hotmail.com
Date: June 27
Subject: Sasol Young Artists

I might be hanging myself but I recently saw the 'good and nice art' choices made by the judges for the Pretoria leg of the Sasol Young Artists Competition - and what a let down. There was a very pretty painting of a swan and two lovely watercolours of flowers that they viewed as worthy. The rest of the works wavered between weak and silly (mostly) to trendy, bright, rave- bunny art. There were a few that merited accolades but they were few and far between. There were few works that asked the viewer to move beyond themselves aesthetically or intellectually. There was not one work that pointed an accusing finger or dared whisper anything at all about the ecological horrors that companies such as Sasol are helping to inflict or even dealt with any social issue that I could see. The 'very nice' works chosen seemed to be so on the merits of 'hangability' in offices and the Sasol CEOs' holiday homes in Plett. I am very cynical about the standard of this competition - is it promoting pretty, nice and pleasing, middle-class tastes in art at the expense of strong art that has something of merit to say? And is it possible that such competitions serve to muzzle artists that may have some social-political issues (such as environmentalism or consumerism) but are overlooked as the statements made could make big and powerful companies such as Sasol feel a little uncomfortable? I could be very wrong but this was my impression.

Thanks for your strong opinions. Having not seen the show, I can't add my comments, but I think it's safe to say that a lot of younger artists are concerned less with social and political issues than those from even five years ago. Sasol is an interesting case in that they were developing a very interesting collection under the guidance of Clive van den Berg, but appear to have changed tack in the last two years. I think it's safe to assume that if an energy company, for example, included in an exhibition sponsored by them, work critiquing their practice, it would be a cut-and-dry case of greenwashing. I wouldn't trust it for a moment. The question is then, I guess, who is responsible for what you see as irrelevant content? PE

Kristi threehappylions@hotmail.com
Date: June 27
Subject: Sasol Young Artists

I might be hanging myself but I recently saw the 'good and nice art' choices made by the judges for the Pretoria leg of the Sasol Young Artists Competition - and what a let down. There was a very pretty painting of a swan and two lovely watercolours of flowers that they viewed as worthy. The rest of the works wavered between weak and silly (mostly) to trendy, bright, rave- bunny art. There were a few that merited accolades but they were few and far between. There were few works that asked the viewer to move beyond themselves aesthetically or intellectually. There was not one work that pointed an accusing finger or dared whisper anything at all about the ecological horrors that companies such as Sasol are helping to inflict or even dealt with any social issue that I could see. The 'very nice' works chosen seemed to be so on the merits of 'hangability' in offices and the Sasol CEOs' holiday homes in Plett. I am very cynical about the standard of this competition - is it promoting pretty, nice and pleasing, middle-class tastes in art at the expense of strong art that has something of merit to say? And is it possible that such competitions serve to muzzle artists that may have some social-political issues (such as environmentalism or consumerism) but are overlooked as the statements made could make big and powerful companies such as Sasol feel a little uncomfortable? I could be very wrong but this was my impression.

Thanks for your strong opinions. Having not seen the show, I can't add my comments, but I think it's safe to say that a lot of younger artists are concerned less with social and political issues than those from even five years ago. Sasol is an interesting case in that they were developing a very interesting collection under the guidance of Clive van den Berg, but appear to have changed tack in the last two years. I think it's safe to assume that if an energy company, for example, included in an exhibition sponsored by them, work critiquing their practice, it would be a cut-and-dry case of greenwashing. I wouldn't trust it for a moment. The question is then, I guess, who is responsible for what you see as irrelevant content? PE

Sean O'Toole editor@artthrob.co.za
Date: August 14
Subject: Response to Julie McGee

Dear Julie McGee,

Let me start by wholeheartedly agreeing: Criticisms of the 'white' outlook of ArtThrob (Peffer's June 3 posting) cannot be answered by devoting one month to 'black contemporary art practice'. But then the July issue was never intended to be a knee jerk reaction to one reader's commentary. My motivations in deciding to theme last month's issue went a little deeper.

I was recently asked by David Krut (publisher of the Taxi Art monographs) to facilitate a workshop aimed at black arts journalists. Let me not beat around the bush here, of course I was aware of all subtle ironies implied in me (a white, not yet a fully realised talent) teaching black arts writers of the calibre of Themba Ka Mathe (2002 Arts and Culture Journalist of the Year) and Zachariah Rapola (a well-known short story writer). But then, sometimes ill conceived ideas can facilitate just deeds, in this instance the mutual exchange of knowledge.

Over the course of those Saturday mornings we discussed numerous issues pertaining to the role of art criticism in South Africa. Through our discussions I was privileged with an insight into some of the problems faced by black arts writers. It was an eye-opener, our private discussions planting the seed for an idea, to devote an issue of ArtThrob to black art practice in South Africa.

On the point regarding the timing of the issue, I don't think your analogy merits an answer. In responding to your chief criticism, I would like to reiterate what I said in my July 1 editorial. "Ostensibly noble gestures [such as July's very self aware issue on Black art] are often underpinned by subtler hegemonic forces, the good intentions framing an idea often also (unconsciously) patronising and self-serving." I stand by my words.

I think I learnt a lot from Ntone Edjabe's contribution, and his comment: "It is... urgent to move discourse on contemporary art in South Africa beyond terms such as 'exposure', or anthropological studies on the status of black visual arts. We need a closer interaction between artistic creators and intellectuals in this country to scare away the ghosts of cultural [and racial] domination."

In response to your letter then, I hold by the decision to present last month's issue in the form it took. As with the workshop I facilitate, shaky motivations can produce subtle fruit, if a little unripe to strain the metaphor further. Despite the apparent awkwardness of the issue, I think it achieved its purpose, which was to introduce readers to a range of writer's engaging with problems of the day. As to whether these problems are new (Is this new? you write), since when has novelty ever been a deciding factor in determining the relevance of an article? Novelty is a dubious trick best left to followers of fashion; I have no interest in fashion here.

In conclusion, the writers I published revisited old issues that have not simply disappeared in the new South Africa. I don't think there is any disservice done in repeating their complaints. As to the day when "discourse on such issues is partnered if not driven by black voices rather than managed by the mainstream", I can only concur in saying that I hope it happens soon.

Kind regards,

Sean O'Toole

Donny Meyer dmeyer@dedalusfoundation.org
Date: July 15
Subject: Robert Motherwell

A colleague of mine here at the Dedalus Foundation (the residual legatee of the estate of Robert Motherwell) informed me that you and others at ArtThrob do a great job of keeping a finger on the pulse of the art world in and around South Africa. I know that you are primarily concerned with contemporary art, but I am wondering whether or not you may be able to point me in the direction of museums, galleries, and other institutions in South Africa, which either own or have exhibited works by Motherwell. We at the Dedalus foundation are currently working on the Catalogue Raisonn´┐Ż of Paintings and Collages by Robert Motherwell (which, of course, we hope to be as comprehensive as possible) and would be grateful for any information about works by that artist. In addition to having consulted the International Directory of Arts 2002, I have conducted what I hope has been a thorough search of South African museums and galleries on the web. I plan to send letters to those museums and galleries that might know anything about the presence of Motherwell works in South Africa. I am hoping that you might be able to help me in my research by providing me with the names of museums, galleries, dealers, and/ or private collectors that might be potential resources. Thank you for your time and your help in this matter.

Best regards,
Donny Meyer

Thanks for your colleague's compliment. I do recall a Motherwell print in the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg, but can't be sure if I've seen any paintings in any of our public collections. This is not really our area of specialisation, but it's quite possible a visitor to the site may be able to help you.

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