Archive: Issue No. 78, February 2004

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INTRODUCING GALLERY CHOICE

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.



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DURANT SIHLALI and WILLEM BOSHOFF

Institution: Sanlam Art Gallery
Artist: Durant Sihlali
Title: A drink with friends
Media: Watercolour
Dimensions: 475 x 675mm

Artist: Willem Boshoff
Title: Pro Patria - Kykafrikaans
Media: Silkscreen
Dimensions: 600 x 420mm

Motivation for purchase:
The Sanlam Art Gallery is currently showcasing acquisitions made during 2003. To single out a work two from the 95 items acquired is difficult enough, and this selection should not be seen as representative of what is a varied and eclectic assortment of works. Also, consideration should be given that purchases made for a collection such as Sanlam's are made by committee, and as such reflect, to some degree, the combined aesthetic preferences of the members of the committee.

Since its inception some forty years ago, the aim of Sanlam's collection has been to build up a representative collection of South African art. Of course, over the years the interpretation of this statement has varied according to each committee. The growth of the collection has, over time, been sporadic, depending largely on the allocation of funds. Consequently, in some years few or no works were acquired, creating noticeable gaps in the collection.

Over the past five years a fair sum of money has been made available for acquisitions, and the collection has grown considerably. The representative nature of the collection has also been improved by the acquisition of suitable historical works (when such works have become available) to fill in gaps in the collection.

One such recent purchase has been a watercolour by Durant Sihlali, dating from 1975. The collection already has three Sihlalis, dating 1976, 1989 and 1993. The two later works are works on paper pulp, progressively reflecting Sihlali's development in the medium from naturalistic towards abstract and decorative motifs. A drink with friends is an early watercolour that is typical of Sihlali's naturalistic style, and depicts a typical scene of friends enjoying a drink together at home. It is a rather sober and competent rendering of a theme that all too often is treated with overt nostalgia and sentimentality by so many South African artists. Grouped together, the four Sihlali works in the collection provide a representative glimpse into the oeuvre of this often-underrated artist.

Another recent addition to the Sanlam art collection has been a series of screenprints by Willem Boshoff. Sanlam commissioned Boshoff to create 12 screenprints from his compilation of visual/concrete poetry, Kyafrikaans. The original typed manuscript of Kykafrikaans forms part of the Sackner Collection, in Miami. Produced in the late 1970s, in Afrikaans, this compilation found little recognition amongst the liberal art intelligentsia.

No doubt Boshoff's motivations and intentions were little understood at the time, and the conservative stance of the museum fraternity at the time condemned the work to obscurity for more than a decade. In 1980 Boshoff produced a very limited edition of screen prints from the Kykafrikaans anthology, most of which were distributed to friends and colleagues. To my knowledge, no public collection ever acquired any of these. It seemed a fitting tribute to Willem Boshoff, and necessary act of restitution, that Kykafrikaans should be accorded proper recognition, and thus this commission was initiated.

Kykafrikaans is conceptually and visually engaging, and although not groundbreaking in the international context, I know of little other text-based work that combines thought and form so well. In a South African art historical context, it certainly deserves a special place. Boshoff's own description of the work Prop Patria provides a vivid description of the thinking process involved:

PRO PATRIA (For the fatherland)
Boshoff, a pacifist, wrote his PRO PATRIA during a period of anxious military service. Five 'soldiers' are 'marching' across the page. Their trail of five rows of footprints repeat fragments of the words 'links - regs' (left - right). These broken syllables are interrupted by snippets of private thought that dwell on home, family and the easy life outside. The poem is to be recited by a platoon of five 'army' voices marching in tempo. The title Pro Patria is the order to march, and instead of yelling the self-assured "left, right, left, right ...," the troops bellow their time and intermixed thoughts simultaneously. The troop to the far left marches by the following abstruse three-letter cries: "bre, ekl, ink, sre, wer, kli, gsl, ink."

Hard Ground Printmakers selected a series of 12 'poems' from the Kykafrikaans anthology for printing, in an edition of 20. Sanlam has donated one portfolio to the Iziko South African National Gallery; a small portion of the edition is still left for sale. Proceeds from the sale will be used to commission another portfolio of printmaking by a South African artist.

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