Archive: Issue No. 73, September 2003

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From: Sharene Mylchreest :
Subject: Sasol Young Artists
Date received: September 3

In response to the very relevant view from Kristi [um, is that Veronique Tadjo you are referring too? - Ed.]. I think the tone of the exhibition was established when Sasol had their submission form designed. It consisted of an incredibly sickly sweet image of preschooler wielding a paintbrush. Needless to say it dissuaded a lot of my contemporaries from entering because we could see that Sasol was definitely not looking for more socially engaged work. Young artists are out there and are making critical work and I agree with Kristi that there seems to be a trend whereby South Africans favour non-political or socially irrelevant art. Social commentary is being made, I just don't think it is being fully absorbed. It is a sad day when we all turn into Sunday painters sitting by the Lake as Sasol would like us to.

From: Nicole Sartini
Subject: The Land of No Critics
Date received: September 3

In response to Sean O' Toole's piece about art criticism -

I have this assumption that contemporary artists exhibiting in our major galleries and featured on this website have some degree of critical literacy and that critics exist to measure or assess this. And yet in what is self-proclaimed to be one of the most visited, popular South African art website the reviews seem more reportage than criticism and the critical responses to the reviews somewhat thin. In fact art criticism has dried up in the Mail & Guardian and the popular print press generally. The only publication that is beginning to scratch the surface of art criticism in this country is 'Art South Africa'. I believe that rigorous art cannot exist in a system without criticism.

I suppose that the problem of a non-critical South African art lies in the fact that too many artists are practicing 'critics' (or rather claiming to be critics). What many of these 'visual practitioners' really write are endorsements for other artists who will later endorse their work. As a fine arts student this rampant professional back scratching became clear to me. It seems that in order to practice real criticism these artist-critics would have to take certain perceived risks in writing honestly about the work of their peers. These risks would include exclusion from certain shows and groups, little support for their exhibitions, no critical support and difficulty in obtaining funding or sponsorship.

Not taking critical risks results in a group of artists who are expert back scratchers, and art that is nothing but sheer masturbation. So, I wonder why we have no critics. With all the heavies overseas (Geers excluded) the kids can play without supervision. With most of the laaities with their sights on New York, London etc., we are left with a small pool of artists and fewer critics left to scratch each other's backs and wallow in the kind of offerings presented at MakeShift which opened at the Johannesburg Art Gallery at the end of August.

From: Gabeba Baderoon
Subject: Images of Islam in South Africa
Date received: September 5

I am researching images of Islam in South Africa, and would appreciate information on artists, both contemporary and historical, who produced work that could be of interest. There is some compelling work on this topic in the theatre and in literature, and I would be interested to know if there are comparable developments in the art world. I would welcome a broad interpretation of this question of images of Islam in SA, and also have a specific question. One of the people I interviewed recalled a woman painter in Durban who attracted some controversy a few years for using erotic images in reworking some classical Islamic art, but could not remember her name. I'd appreciate help with this, and any sources you'd recommend.

Thank you,
Gabeba Baderoon
English dept, UCT

From: Robert Hodgins
Date received:August 24

This is Robert in London perplexed at "Bangladesh without the floats". He said, "without the floods". Surely everybody is going to be thinking I've lost my marbles. There are no floods of any kind in London this summer. Indeed we are impressed by the lightest drizzles.

Best Regards
Robert Hodgins

From: Antoinette Murdoch
Subject: Art critics
Date received: August 24

Just do remember the Afrikaans critics! Wilhelm van Rensburg (he is probably the best of the lot), and there is Lucia Burger who knows what she is talking about.

From: Lorriane Mackeand
Subject: Comments on Editors and Critics
Date received: August 24

For those of us who are active artists in the academic field, the value of critics and magazine articles is very important. But we do need to have genuine critical opinion. There are now a couple of South African art magazines, which are really a needed item in our art field. Us as teachers and those as students need this input, whether in the magazine or on websites, but not all have websites.
Would be really super to have a local newspaper ART ARTICLES available, even once a month, with latest comments on our artists, i.e. Sue Williamson and her overseas Biennale, etc. Also Kendell Geers.
And some concepts of curators, and the programmes here in South Africa. Also? what about some information on Restoration of Art, are there short courses available?

From: Scott Bredin
Subject: Special Feature: Who's criticising who?
Date received: August 26

The Editor,
I have read the articles in this month's 'Special Feature' with great interest. I was particularly struck by what Sue Williamson had to say: "Even if the result is stultifying, it is important to reflect on what the artist was trying to achieve, and to engage with that." Whilst I recognise the structural issues in SA art criticism raised by Andrew Lamprecht, I do believe that the quality of our critics' output should not go unchallenged.

A recent one-sentence review of my own work at the NSA by Virginia MacKenny in ArtThrob proved to be particularly galling because of its complete failure to engage with the work. Ingrid Winterbach (who was exhibiting in an adjoining gallery) received the same treatment. ( Apparently the work was not sufficiently challenging.

Remarkably, MacKenny managed to squeeze two factual errors into her two-sentence review: I live in Durban and it was Francois le Vaillant, not Louis. (The correct information was contained in the press releases published on ArtThrob.) Perhaps then it should have come as no surprise that MacKenny failed to explore any of the parallels between my research into topographical drawing and Winterbach's appraisal of le Vaillant's colonial view - let alone attempt to critique the shows.
Given that I had specifically chosen to exhibit at the NSA in order to elicit some kind of critical response, you may appreciate my disappointment. I suppose it is the critic's prerogative to choose what to engage with. I am also very conscious that it is idle to reply to one's critics. However, I rather suspect that the lack of attention to detail has more to do with a critical discourse that discounts painting and drawing as unfashionable - which, of course, it is. I took heart at Kendell Geers' recent remark that he was turning away from video because it was "too easy". Perhaps the nature of my challenge was misunderstood, namely: that is not necessary to blindly wander down the path to an installed multimedia monoculture bleating about 'open ended meanings'. Is seems that the "look" of painterly landscapes led your contributor to assume that their production involved no internal challenge.

I suggest MacKenny examines her own contribution before lampooning other writings of dubious quality. (
Scott Bredin