Archive: Issue No. 105, May 2006

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The Plaza de la Cathedral, Havana

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A gallery at the Wilfred Lam Centre

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K'cho's transformed American fridge

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Co-curator Laurence Madeline of The Musée Picasso is interviewed at the media preview
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April

Saturday, April 1

This will be my last day in Havana as an artist on the 9th Bienal. But two days ago, the director of the Bienal, Rubén del Valle Lantarón called me into his office and invited me to come back and have a personal exhibition in the Wilfredo Lam Centre some time in the future. So I will be back. And that is exciting.

Upstairs on the third floor of this historic Spanish building just off the Plaza de la Cathedral is a series of beautiful galleries with tiled floors and blue-beamed ceilings. Presently undergoing renovation, these would be available for work. Or the courtyard in the centre of the building could be used - Louise Bourgeois located one of her giant metal spiders there not long ago.

I have been taking photos of the spaces. And today I buy a workbook for the project in the market - a large sketchbook with a hessian cover with CUBA and the Cuban flag embroidered in red and blue cross-stitch on the front. And of course, the ubiquitous faded photocopied image of Ché Guevara stuck on the first page

This afternoon, I go to the last exhibition opening. Local artists have been given American fridges from the fifties to transform. The kind with curved corners. My favourite is K'cho's, impaled with his trademark oars.���

Being in Havana has been great, but there are people here I saw once, kept expecting to bump into again at the next opening or party, but didn't. Like South African curator Tumelo Mosaka, now at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. We met at a club one night, where there was a Bienal party with a fantastic 12 piece Cuban band, talked a lot, salsa-ed some, and that was it. Such is life without a cell phone.

Monday, April 3

Arrive back in Cape Town just in time for Bruce's birthday and drinks at l/b's. My present is two Cuban shirts, the kind with tucks down the front and four buttoned pockets. And a cigar.� And a bottle of Havana Club to make mojitas.

Wednesday, April 5

The opening tonight is photographer Stephen Inggs with a new series of photographs entitled 'Solitude' at Joao Ferreira. Desolate images of the Karroo.

Saturday, April 8

I've always admired the drawing skills of Leon Vermeulen, now based in the Eastern Cape, and his new show at the AVA, his first in years, reminds me how much I have missed his expressive line. Our Saturday morning gallery trip continues to the SANG, where Standard Bank Young Artist Wim Botha is opening his award show in one of the few galleries not closed off for the upcoming Picasso extravaganza.

Wim has gone through the SANG cellars to pick out appropriate paintings to act as a backdrop for his powerful biblically themed sculptures. Linda Stupart will review for ArtThrob.

Monday, April 10

Back at the National Gallery for the long heralded media preview of 'Picasso and Africa' at lunchtime. The media is there is force to listen to co-curators Laurence Madeline of the Musée Picasso and the SANG's Marilyn Martin introduce the mega show.

I once lived in Paris for a few months, just around the corner from the Musée Picasso, which was a favourite stop on peregrinations through the city.

It was the first time I realized, by studying the photos of all women in Picasso's life, that his portraits were not quite as abstract as I had always naively assumed, and actually did in some way resemble the subjects.

But back to the present: Along with Andy Warhol, Picasso remains by far the most globally exhibited, most looked-up-on-the-net, most prolific, most universally recognized artist of the 20th century.

In recent years, his name has been used constantly in discussions on contemporary African art as an example of a Western artist turning to the power and spirituality of African art for inspiration. Thus, the present exhibition, the first to place masks and other artefacts in the same space as relevant work from Picasso's oeuvre is of particular interest from this point of view.

My own favourite work from the show is a series of 11 lithographs of bulls, made over a period of six weeks in 1946. All of them are easily recognisable in style as from the hand of the master, but range from expressively drawn and modulated bulls, to the merest outline. One can imagine Picasso watching each come off the press and refining, refining, until the final elegant sketch.

This afternoon, there is another art event: Minister of Culture Pallo Jordan has invited visual artists to the Castle, for an imbizo, a discussion about matters concerning artists. The imbizo is seen by the State as a means of communicating with the public, a direct way of dealing with questions and answers face to face.

Some of the more interesting ones:

Q: Is it not possible for the government to give tax breaks to people and companies buying art, to encourage collectors?

PJ: This question comes up regularly. It is the responsibility of the Department of Finance, but the government has not been collecting the taxes we should have been from corporations, and until such time as the collector of taxes feels business is responding properly, tax breaks are unlikely.

Q: What is the annual budget of the Department of Culture?�

PJ: It's well over R2 billion - of which 60% goes to the maintenance of existing structures.

Q: What is happening with the National Arts Council?

PJ: We are ready to appoint a new board - but it is taking time.

Monday, April 24

Those who attend the CAPE (Cape Africa Platform) meeting hoping to learn which artists will be participating in �Trans Cape' set to open in September, are disappointed. The names of the 70 African artists who will participate are not given, (the selection is still in process) but it is now clearer how local artists can take part.

Director Gavin Jantjes explains that the concept is that there will be numerous venues within a geographic triangle that starts in central Cape Town and stretches to Muizenberg and through the Cape Flats to Stellenbosch. Buses, trains, taxis and special TRANS CAPE vehicles will take visitors to the different locations, which will range from existing institutions to bed and breakfasts.

Those artists not on the central programme can put proposals up to CAPE at info@capeafrica.org, and should the proposal be accepted, will be put on the Trans Cape route map and receive publicity. As Jantjes points out, the fringe can often overtake the main event in punch and importance.
 


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