Archive: Issue No. 85, September 2004

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Unknown Artist
Portrait of a man in a shepherd's guise
Dutch School, Amsterdam, 17th century
oil on panel
Michaelis collection Inv. No. 14/31

Flip at the SANG
by Kim Gurney

The Michaelis Collection of 17th century Dutch paintings in The Old Town House is well known to Capetonians. In a first for a South African exhibition, however, the artworks have turned their backs on viewers.

The aptly titled 'Flip', curated by art theorist (and new ArtThrob editor) Andrew Lamprecht, comprises a selection of paintings by Dutch masters like Frans Hals and Jan Steen, shown with their backs facing the viewer.

According to Iziko, 'Flip' operates as a contemporary and conceptual installation that raises questions and issues around perceptions and public expectations in the traditional gallery space.

'Flip' also aims to draw attention to the important information and deductions that can be drawn from historical evidence found on the backs of pictures. Old labels, inscriptions and other material become attached to paintings over time. These act as pointers to their past including previous ownership, provenance, origin and how they were made.

Marilyn Martin, the director of Art Collections at Iziko Museums of Cape Town, knew of only one other example in the world where paintings had been turned to face the wall in an exhibition.

Martin referred to a work from the Ruth Prowse estate recently brought to the SANG as an example of how information gets tagged onto the backs of paintings. On its reverse side are stickers from loans and other clues that track the painting's movements. Martin added, 'It's not just provenance and ownership � [these markings] also become visually very interesting.'

Lamprecht suggested the idea for 'Flip' as an interesting way to draw more people to view the well established Michaelis Collection. The strategy is clearly working, if pre-publicity is any indicator of interest.

Martin added: 'It is such an unusual thing to do. The idea is to get viewers to think differently about the works, to look at them differently in future because of the new knowledge about them.'

It is not the first time Lamprecht has courted controversy at an Iziko museum. Last year, Capetonian Bruce Gordon was donated to the SANG as a 'conceptual' artwork created by Ed Young and curated by Lamprecht.

Gordon - or rather the idea of Gordon as an artwork - was bought for R52 000 at a Michaelis auction and donated to the gallery's permanent collection by Suzy Bell amid a blaze of publicity.

Opens: September 2
Closes: October 31