Archive: Issue No. 73, September 2003

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What motivates curators and art buyers to purchase artworks? This simple question is the premise for Gallery Choice, a monthly feature that aims to reveal who (public museums/corporate collections/private galleries) is buying what (artist), and why.



Institution: Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art
Artist: Willem Boshoff (1951- )
Title: Negotiating the English labyrinth, 2003
Media: Paper, masonite, wood and glue
Dimensions: 12 x 240 cm

Motivation for purchase:
"I first met Willem Boshoff in 1993 while working at the newly opened Everard Read Contemporary in Rosebank.

Not long after that first meeting Willem invited me round for dinner. That evening is still etched clearly in my memory. I was overwhelmed by all his magnificent works, which hung everywhere in his double-story house in Kensington, Johannesburg. At that time, only ten years ago, Willem Boshoff was unknown to most museum directors, art collectors and art students. He still worked at Wits Technikon to support his family as no one, bar his longstanding patron and friend Jack Ginsberg, were taking an interest in collecting his work.

I was puzzled by this as the works were simply outstanding. I remember asking Willem if I could consign a work to hang at the gallery. It was so difficult to choose one work from such a profound body of early works. Eventually I choose a work titled Bangboek (1979), which is a large minimal work on paper dealing with issues of fear and loathing that Boshoff experienced while serving in the South African Defence Force.

I hung the work in the office of the Everard Read Contemporary gallery, and to be honest most people didn't even notice it, despite its imposing scale. It was at this time, in late 1993, that Gencor (BHP Billiton) started acquiring the first pieces for its collection, under the curatorship of Kendell Geers. He bought Boshoff's work at first glance. Today BHP Billiton have eleven works by the artist, including Phesos (1994), which was commissioned especially for the new head office in Hollard Street, Johannesburg. This was the first public commission of this scale and importance which the artist had been awarded. Phesos commemorates our first democratic elections in April 1994.

I continued to find collectors for Willem's most important early works and felt privileged in 1995/6 to handle Library Cards, Tafelboek and Verskeur, which are all seminal works from 1980. These are all currently in private collections in Johannesburg.

Boshoff's fascination for collating, indexing and collecting 'redundant' relics such as wood offcuts, junk mail or disusedrary cards continue to permeate his work. This is clearly evident in this recent work, titled Negotiating the English Labyrinth (2003). Boshoff, like millions of people around the world, is intrigued by the challenge of the daily crossword puzzle. Like T.S. Eliot "measuring out his life with coffee spoons," Boshoff has collected, indexed and archived the last ten years of completed crossword puzzles. Negotiating the English Labyrinth, bears testimony to an artist consumed by the nature of language and meaning, who is able to balance superb conceptual rigour with outstanding craftsmanship."