Archive: Issue No. 81, May 2004

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Sue Williamson

Poster for Messages for the Moat

Bruce Gordon

Ed Young
'Bruce Gordon', 2002


APRIL 3 - 26

Saturday, April 3

How do you arouse a slumbering artwork? It's 11 a.m, time for the opening of 'A Decade of Democracy: South African Art 1991-2004' at the South African National Gallery. Ed Young's artwork, otherwise known as Bruce Gordon, is still in dreamland. He is featured in the exhibition catalogue, displaying his tattooed SANG acquisition number, but unless he opens his eyes very soon he is going to miss the opportunity to smile modestly at those who recognise him. Letting sleeping artworks lie, I leave.

This has been a major exhibition to prepare, and flows through most of the galleries of the SANG. Funding for the all the projectors and other equipment needed to show off the SANG's expanding collection of new media work came through only two weeks before the opening, to the enormous relief of curator Emma Bedford.

The show looks great. Everyone is commenting on the fact that in spite of a perenially lean acquisitions budget, the SANG has in fact manage to amass an excellent collection, even though there are a number of gaps which must be filled.

In the centre of the Liebermann Room, Alan Alborough's Heathen Wet Lip still turns the stomach with its unpleasant display of salted elephant ears displayed like victory flags, and cut off elephant feet offered on steel trays. Marlene Dumas' donation to the collection is entitled The Next Generation, a masterpiece grid of more than 40 faces worked in various shades of black ink. Dumas works wet on wet, adding black detail before the initial pool of grey which describes the main form of the face has been allowed to dry, her sheets of paper covering her studio floor. The miracle is that Dumas has such control over this extremely loose way of working that each portrait radiates its own emotional aura. And these are just two of the 150 works on offer. Open until August, one hopes this show will break attendance records.

Emerging from the galleries, I spot a familiar figure across the atrium. SANG 02/03 has made it after all.

Sunday, April 4

South Africa printmaking is about to get a showing in one of New York's most prestigious institutions - the Museum of Modern Art. An email today tells me printmaking curator Judy Hecker is on her way, with the aim of seeing as much work as possible by local printmakers. She will visit studios across the country.

Friday, April 9

My installation, Messages from the Moat is now up in the Cistern Room at The Castle, and this morning is spent with Pam Warne and Cedric Koortje of the National Gallery trying to get the right photo for the exhibition poster to be printed. Never an easy task, especially in a very restricted space with highly contrasting lighting.

Monday, April 12

It's not often the sale of a single artwork results in being invited to fly overseas at short notice, to be wined and dined for almost a week, but this is what happened to more than 30 artists whose work was selected by Janine van der Ende (Endemol �Big Brother �) to be part of an exhibition around the opening of The Lion King in the Fortis Circustheater Amsterdam. Following a precedent Janine and husband Joop set up when they mounted a show of contemporary Egyptian art around the opening of Aida, Janine flew to South Africa in January of this year, and chose the work. Apparently after the close of Aida, the work was sold off on auction at a handsome profit � and no doubt created excellent publicity for the show. So perhaps it is not as extravagant a gesture as it sounds � Returning artists like Kevin Brand and Penny Siopis are full of stories of the great time they had.

Tuesday, April 13

And talking about Holland �Dutch artist Rob Moonen is in town, meeting local artists about a project called Vrijplaats to take place in his home town of Tilburg. One of the suburbs there has street names which derive from South Africa � Kaapkolonie Straat, Piet Retief Straat, Generaal de Wet Straat and so on. Moonen has motivated for a public art project which will see three South African artists invited for a six week residency in Tilburg, after which they will present a proposal for a project in which the local community will be in some way involved. The judges of whose project will be realised include Pauline Burmann of the Thami Mnyele Foundation and artist Moshekwa Langa, now living in Holland. A story about the project on the ArtThrob Exchange pages brought a number of responses from artists here, and to see more about it, go to http://www.robmoonen.nl/2003/2003_vrijplaats2.htm

Wednesday, April 14

Election Day! Go early to my local voting station and get marked on my left thumb with indelible ink. A story in the paper today carries a story about the difficulties of removing these indelible marks from artificial nails. Get a life, people!

Friday, April 16

Spend the afternoon with designer Jenny Young working on the Messages from the Moat poster. Jenny is the high priestess of clean and simple design - but it always looks sharp. She and I have worked on so many projects together, everything just seems to flow, and as usual, the final design looks even better than I had hoped. The aim is to get the poster approved by the SANG and at least one printed by next Wednesday, so it can go up on the Cistern Room door at The Castle to coincide with the opening of 'Democracy X' in another part of the complex.

Tuesday, April 15

The SANG approves one of the two poster designs submitted. Good. Printing can proceed.

Editions for ArtThrob marketing director Tracy Murinik and I pay a visit to the Conservation Centre of Parliament who will make the archival linen portfolio cases for the first set of collectors' portfolios. Chief conservator Keith Seaford trained at the Library of Congress in Washington, and everything in the department looks immaculate. After a discussion, we choose grey as the cover colour.

With enormous generosity, The Goodman Gallery is sponsoring a double page ad in the next issue of Art South Africa to launch this first portfolio, which will include work by William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Tracey Rose, Hentie van der Merwe and David Goldblatt.

Wednesday, April 21

A second blockbuster art show opens tonight, courtesy of the decade of democracy. This one is called 'Democracy X,' and is located in a complex of corridors and galleries at The Castle. It's a brilliant show. Breathtaking. It follows the progress of art from the earliest days of rock painting up to the most contemporary, contextualising it all with photographs, paintings, music, keeping the narrative going with crisp wall notes. Who knew that all these previously hidden objects were part of our national patrimony? Under chief curator Rayda Becker, collections across the country have given up their treasures. Some favourite objects: an extraordinary necklace of lions claws set in gold, given by a Zulu chief to a British officer on his acceptance into the tribe, and two sets of widely spreading Afrikander bull horns still attached to the skulls, carved with intricate depictions of battles.

In another part of the Castle, the poster has gone up on the door, and the first visitors are coming in to view Messages from the Moat.

Monday , April 26

Next Sunday I leave for Senegal for the Dakar Biennial. Spend the day making lists of what I have to do before I can leave. By 6 p.m. I have managed to cross two items off again.

Tuesday, April 27

Type the diary while watching President Mbeki giving his inaugaration speech on television. Yes, well, it is pretty amazing that in spite of everything we've come through the first 10 years so well. I have to admit to feeling a swell of national pride.


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