Archive: Issue No. 28, December 1999

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Reviews

Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Blackman 1999
Enamel on board
140 x 40 cm



Peter Eastman

Peter Eastman
Foliage and face 1999
Enamel on board
60 x 60 cm



CAPE TOWN

Peter Eastman at Harris Fine Art
By Sue Williamson

This body of carefully considered work by a young painter is stamped with an authoritative touch. Despite the seemingly careless simplicity of a number of the images, Peter Eastman knows exactly what he is doing, and how to tread the extremely fine line which separates simplicity from superficiality. Images are icon-like, often seemingly blown up from a tiny original - delicate cross hatching becomes broad lines of colour. This use of line is the sole concession to modulating form, and this, together with the flatness of the colours leads one to recall Japanese woodblocks. A printmaker's approach to painting has been applied, and shows again in the way that Eastman will build up layer upon layer of colour, until the flat, reflective surface of the household gloss enamel paint will reveal shapes and lines built up in previous layers of paint underneath.

Blackman, for instance, is little more than a childlike orange outline of a figure filled in with colour. The only facial features are the eyes - except that under the surface of the face, where nose and mouth should be, the bones of a skull and crossbones intersect.

Eastman is an artist to watch.

Harris Fine Art, 4 Riebeeck Street, Wynberg Chelsea, Cape Town.
Tel/fax: 762-4076
Website: www.harrisfineart.co.za

Norman Catherine

Norman Catherine
Crocodile Man 1999
Painted jelutong
Detail of 'Curiocity'



Norman Catherine

Norman Catherine
Silver Cat 1999
Painted jelutong
Detail of 'Curiocity'



Sue Williamson

Sue Williamson
Can't forget, can't remember
Interactive video projection
Joao Ferreira Fine Art



'Artery' at the Joao Ferreira Fine Art
By Paul Edmunds

This part of the 'Artery' show offers more sustenance and satisfaction, and provides a more comprehensive and digestible quantity of work from the featured artists.

Sue Williamson's Can't Remember, Can't Forget represents a progression from her Truth Games series. She uses original recordings from the TRC hearings, playing these against images from the media in an interactive sound and projection piece in which her technical collaborator is graphic designer Tracy Gander. Heavily grained and pixellated images of Jeff Benzien and Tony Yengeni are the background over which transcriptions from their respective testimonies move. These can be activated and the original sound heard by the manipulation of a mouse. The heavily mediated images can be similarly controlled. There is an ominous, swelling soundtrack composed by musician Arnold Erasmus, and the images change constantly in colour and intensity, breaking down and shifting. Just who can't remember and who can't forget gets confused, and truth becomes a gray area, subject to manipulation, abuse and control. The viewer becomes involved and is reminded that the position of the questioner is intimately related to the resulting answer. In a further complicating counterpoint, Williamson does a similar reconstruction of the infamous St. James massacre. She also renders this story in a series of similarly mediated stills and extracts from these transcriptions in Some Evidence from Dawie Ackerman, a mosaic of images on the gallery wall.

Norman Catherine's Curiocity consists of a long shelf above, below and on which is a large collection of his familiar devils, imps and anomalous characters. These are rendered on a small scale, most of them being conveniently hand-sized. Catherine's images appear to reference Mexican votive crafts, Egyptian iconography and, on this scale, West Africa Colon figures. They seem to simultaneously operate on a universal symbolic level, depicting the inner demons, aberrations and freaks which plague our consciousness. There is however always a playfulness and spontaneity in these works which can provide a welcome relief from this tireless alphabet of our shortcomings. Perhaps the reference to Mexican crafts provides a metaphor for the parameters within which the work operates, encompassing both Catholic guilt and Latin exuberance.

Willie Bester's quiet genre paintings set into the business ends of found work implements are strong and reflective. The three works by Durant Sihlali didn't, unfortunately, provide me with enough to hang my hat on and get a real sense of the language with which he works.

Closes January 8

Joao Ferreira Fine Art, 80 Hout Street
Tel: (021) 423-5403
E-mail: joao@iafrica.com

William Kentridge

William Kentridge
Sleeping on Glass 1999
Mixed media installation



Robert Hodgins

Robert Hodgins
Green Piece No. 5
Cleaver Boy 1999
Oil on canvas



'Artery' at the at the AVA
By Paul Edmunds

It was hard to dissociate my experience of this show from the general excitement at seeing Kentridge's Sleeping on Glass for the first time in SA. Projected onto a mirror atop a chest of drawers, the film includes his familiar drawn images as well as footage of a sleeping female figure, some puppets and two Meccano cranes or dredgers. The film acquires a beautiful liquid texture on the mirror's surface which is married well to the smooth and beautiful opera and sound effects which accompany it. In dark sequences one can't fail to notice one's own reflection on that surface. The film seems to hinge on a series of pairs- a female figure sleeping on glass below whom is a drawn man breathing heavily in his slumber. The two cranes appear to engage in some kind of dance and then unite in an effort to dredge up what hangs below them. Two puppet figures appear to conduct and direct with small flags in their hands. The climax of the film is the splitting of a large drawn tree. 'Adaptability' and 'Compliance' are written beneath either side of this tree, perhaps questioning the subtle difference in meaning between these two words. Kentridge is also exhibiting a series of prints which relate closely to the film.

Zwelethu Mthethwa's Chant 1 - 4 is a series of extraordinarily beautiful sepia-toned photographs printed on fabric. They depict a traditional ceremony, led apparently by two women and a drummer. Mthethwa's eye for composition functions on several scales. Two of the works consist of paired photographs and two of single pictures, these are in turn arranged into a rhythmical composition which grant the whole a devotional, subtly altar-like quality. Within the works, the repetition of shapes- buttocks, the drum- further enhances this kind of order. Although carefully composed by the photographer Mthwethwa successfully avoids contrivance and choreography and the shots hover uniquely between documentary and directed.

Deborah Bell's series of Spoon drawings seem to reveal a more private vocabularly and concern than the African artifacts she depicts would have you believe. Robert Hodgins continues to produce paintings which intrigue, mystify but ultimately reward the viewer. Andrew Verster has produced a series of small precious paintings revealing his ever-increasing interest in Indian iconography and painting's formal potential. Sam Nhlengethwa exhibits collaged paintings and a constructed triptych which detail his interest in jazz music. Pat Mautloa has produced a series of lightbox mounted photographs of burning braziers in the Newtown district of Jo'burg as well as some pastel drawings.

Main show closes December 18, William Kentridge installation until January 22.

AVA, 35 Church Street
Tel: (021) 424-4348
Fax: (021) 423-2037
E-mail: avaart@iafrica.com
Website: www.ava.co.za
Gallery hours: Mon - Fri, 10am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 12pm

Kendell Geers
Kendell Geers and Bili Bidjocka
Heart of Darkness (1997)
Mixed media installation
Photo by: Michael Hall



Kendell Geers
Kendell Geers and Bili Bidjocka
Heart of Darkness (1997)
Mixed media installation
Photo by: Michael Hall



'Artery' at the SANG
By Sue Williamson

'Africa is not for sissies' reads the headline of an article in the current issue of Style magazine. It is a theme which has been reiterated over the years by writers, artists and filmmakers all over the continent, most powerfully perhaps in Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, a classic set book in which civilisation is left behind in a river journey which takes the reader deeper and deeper into hell. It was to this book director Francis Ford Coppola turned to make his allegory of the Vietnam war, Apocalypse Now, in 1979, starring Marlon Brando as Col. Kurtz, the gung-ho American military leader turned warlord who meets his death in the jungle. And it is these two sources which inform Kendell Geers' and Bili Bidjocka's installation The Heart of Darkness, now on at the South African National Gallery as part of the 'Artery' group of exhibitions.

Snaking like jungle vines over the floor, partially obscuring the images on the video monitors, white cables link a dozen monitors, set on top of each other, some sideways some upside down, mirroring the craziness of Kurtz's riverside lair. The room is darkened, the strongest light and visual heat emanating from the screens of the monitors, which picture a closeup image of Kurtz on his death bed, mouthing over and over again his final words, whispered so sibilantly it is hard to distinguish them, "The horror, the horror". A second image is taken from Nicholas Roeg's film The Heart of Darkness. From time to time, a bell tolls. Floating above these monitors are elongated garments of clear vinyl, each housing a small lit bulb. Made by Bili Bidjocka, the artist has explained that these 'dresses' symbolise survivors, but their hanging forms also suggest the mosquito nets by which the colonialists sought to protect themselves from at least one of Africa's scourges.

What are we to understand from this powerful display, this vision of agony? That far from being on the brink of a rennaissance, the starkness of Conrad's black vision of Africa has equal resonance today? Geers' scorching view that corruption is endemic and terminal has never been articulated more forcefully.

SANG, Government Ave, Gardens
Tel: (021) 4651628
Email: satsang@mweb.co.za
Website: www.museums.org.za/sang
Gallery hours: Tues - Sun, 10am - 5pm

Penny Siopis

Penny Siopis
Verwoerd Speaks (1999)
Video still



Johannes Segogela

Johannes Segogela
The Ascension (1999)
Wood, paint, mixed media
Installation view (detail)



'Artery' at the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet
By Sue Williamson

Seldom has the white triangular space at the Cabinet been so charming as it is now, filled with the choirs of the white clad wooden angels of Johannes Segogela singing to the upturned faces of worshippers below, and if that devil over there seems to be taking a bite out of some woman's buttock - well, into each life a little rain must fall. The interesting thing about Segogela is that no matter how many angels he may carve - and by now it could be in the hundreds - each is approached as a fresh entity, and so retains its individuality.

The contrast to the next door exhibition in the other part of the Cabinet could hardly be more marked. Here, one may view Penny Siopis' Verwoerd Speaks. In this period in which contemporary artists are constantly mining old films and documentary images for interesting clips to rework and recontextualise in video installations, Siopis has the great good fortune to have had parents who ran around making home movies constantly. Not only the family outings in which Siopis and her siblings cavort unrestrainedly were recorded, but also all sorts of other daily events - what appear to be agricultural shows, the arrival of a train, the departure of a dark haired woman on a Union Castle boat form part of the family archive. The passage of the years and the strange quality of the film hold our attention. In her 1995 video, Charmed Lives, a most remarkable piece, Siopis recreates the coming of the Siopis family to South Africa from Greece, a story retold in subtitles by her grandmother.

In Verwoerd Speaks, a 1966 speech by the 'architect of apartheid' spells out the benefits for the white community of the Nationalist Party policies, and promises future prosperity. The Afrikaans words are translated into English in subtitles. Against this, Siopis plays some of the aforementioned footage. There seems to be little or no relationship between the bleached, filmed scenes of children playing ring-a-rosy and the ponderous, boastful words. But that is surely the point. Whites in the sixties largely lived their lives as if they had no control over the policies of their country. Verwoerd Speaks recalls very clearly those schizophrenic years.

Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, 120 Bree Street.
Tel: (021) 424166 E-mail: mark@cabinet.co.za
Website: www.cabinet.co.za

Alan Crump

Alan Crump
Leaving 1999
Watercolour
150 x 102 cm



Cecil Skotnes

Cecil Skotnes
Head 1999
Incised and painted wooden panel
130 x 130 cm



'Artery' at the Lipschitz Gallery
By Paul Edmunds

It is difficult to review a show which consists of works put together under the aegis of their commitment to a particular art gallery, rather than some curatorial premise. One can't help but look for some underlying commonality or theme in the works. If one tries to ignore this and looks merely at the isolated works of particular artists this can be rewarding, but I feel somehow, in this show, that some artists were under-represented, that one couldn't get a sense of their oeuvre or intentions.

Alan Crump's beautiful watercolours battle to emerge from their sensuous brushmarks, and the sadness of Leaving, a large painting depicting a diminutive ocean liner against the background of an enncroaching, verdant landmass, almost fails to complement the melancholy and nostalgia of Circa 70s and Circa 90s. I felt I needed to see more work to be afforded a more comprehensive view into this private landscape and symbolic language.

On the other hand, David Koloane's Cityscape series of pastel drawings does justice to his work in the best possible way. Showing city scenes which one can splice into a comfortable linear narrative, Koloane's work captures Johannesburg's grime and seediness. Bright, saturated hues depicting city lights and the made-up lips of prostitutes clamber out of the murk and grit of the ochre-tinged buildings and streets. There seems to be a moral in this tale, but its loose, gestural telling negates any possible sentimentality. Ezrom Legae's sensitive ink drawings depict a battle between negative space and line to construct mangy roaming dogs. From Cecil Skotnes there is more of what makes him an enduring favourite among many collectors, and there are drawings and bronzes from his ex-Polly Street student Sydney Kumalo. There are also a series of bronzes from Percy Konqobe and small carvings and constructions by Peter Schütz. Two oilstick drawings by Sfiso ka-Mkame afford a frustratingly small glimpse into an artist little seen in Cape Town.

Closes January 15

Lipschitz Gallery, 138-140 Buitengragt Street
Tel: (021) 422-0280
Fax: (021) 422-0281
E-mail: sue@artsafari.com
Website: www.artsafari.com

Tanya Poole



Tanya Poole

Tanya Poole
Inner Site Violence (1999)
Mixed media
Installation detail



Tanya Poole: 'Inner site violence'
By Sue Williamson

Earlier this year, Clare Keenan faced death in fighting off an intruder in her St James, Cape Town bedroom. Determined not to be raped, she fought back, and was stabbed all over her body, and bleeding heavily, left for dead by her attacker. Artist and close friend Tanya Poole decided to work with Keenan documenting the event. "Media coverage", says Poole in an artist's statement accompanying 'Inner Site Violence' "tends to be distancing because of our desensitization. Fine art is more engaging".

In a four day showing in the actual house and bed where the attack took place, Poole used art as an arena to consider what happened to her friend. Not in any way easy, but indeed, the artist succeeded in making a mixed media installation both shocking and dispassionate. In the otherwise pristine white bedroom, an image of Keenan sprawled across the laundered sheets. Between the bedroom and the bathroom, an image of the head of her attacker had to be passed in order to examine the small paintings, one for each stab wound, which covered the walls. In the living area, paintings of parts of Keenan's body, partically covered by an attached kitchen knife, could be seen through handwritten text on the glass of the frames which detailed the chronology of the attack. It is the cool recital of facts without embellishment which sets the tone. Keenan showed extraordinary courage in her fight for survival; Poole takes on a difficult artistic task, and brings it off.

'Inner Site Violence' will show for one night at the Millennium Gallery in Pretoria this month.

Karel Nel
Karel Nel
Hoe currency (detail)
Kwele
Gabon
Forged iron
49 x 42.5 cm single (1 kg)
55 x 46.,5 cm bundle (11 kg)



Karel Nel
Karel Nel
Katanga Croses
Unknown group
DRC (S. Congo)
13 x 14 cm
24.6 x 20.5 cm
300g - 1310g



Karel Nel
Karel Nel
Ruminations of the heart circulatory field 1999
Installation detail
Coins



JOHANNESBURG

'Karel Nel's "Bridewealth, Currency and Other Assets: a bachelor's collection" at the Standard Bank Gallery
By Kathryn Smith

Attending a recent walkabout with Karel Nel for the "Bridewealth" aspect of his two-part exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery, I felt as if I were enjoying a private audience with the artist, irrespective of the fact that there were some twenty other rapt listeners in the space. I studied under him for my four undergraduate years at Wits, and am still amazed by his ability to impart intense wisdom in his slow, measured, exceedingly Zen-like manner. His knowledge of African, Oceanic and Eastern cultural production (Modernism's beloved 'primitives') is exquisitely detailed and one emerges feeling truly enriched and with an incomparable sense of place.

"Bridewealth" comprises selected objects from a collection Nel started at the age of 12. Items range from Iron Age to present in age, and from Cape to Congo in provenance. The show is impeccably designed and curated with Nel's innate understanding of spatial dynamics and how placement affects reading - an installation Feng Shui if you will, only in its truest sense without all the New Age bunk. The show is formulated as a series of transparent layers, that map similarities and differences of objects through the space in an exploration of depth and dynamic form. It traces trade routes and economic passage in its many characters by accumulating rare objects that, although are somewhat sequential in form, are differentiated by regional idiosyncrasies and where Nel acquired them, all of which is annotated on extensive but succinct contextual notes and labelling. Like Erna Beumers' strategy in "Africa Meets Africa" of indicating when objects were acquired by collectors instead of when they were produced, Nel employs an interesting tactic here by weighing many of the objects and noting this on their labels. This gives a real sense of their value, both as raw material and in finished state. In the case of objects that were designed to be worn, this is mind-boggling stuff - a group of ankle bracelets weigh anywhere between 2kg and 6,5 kg, and although this would indicate that the wearer was exempt from working in the fields, this discomfort for the sake of status must have been huge. When one considers plastic surgery and obsessive exercise routines in the quest for beauty, nothing much has changed.

Intensely self-aware of his roles as artist, collector and curator, Nel comments on the way the collecting fraternity (pardon the gender bias) consider themselves something of a 'tribe'. Object labels often indicate pieces Nel received as gifts from other collectors, a process he describes as "currency exchanged in the form of friendship." Gauteng has experienced something of a 'Afrodizzia' of late, with Professor Anitra Nettleton's "Gone to their Heads: Art of the Head in Africa" (Standard Bank Gallery), Dr Erna Beumers' "Africa Meets Africa" (Africa Window, Pretoria), "The Beat of Drum" (Standard Bank Gallery) and now this show, with others at JAG and Wits' Downstairs Gallery at the GPG, which houses the Standard Bank Collection. I suppose this is entirely in keeping with President Thabo Mbeki's dream of an African Renaissance, and the various shows have generally been very well put together.

"Bridewealth" allows for a reading of aesthetic concerns from a point of view rarely experienced. It is fascinating to be able to trace the evolving of these objects from the functional hoe, for example, to objects of currency that require scale and shape-shifts, and where more man hours spent in the making process are directly related to value.

And here we have objects that answer that brief several times over.The liminal quality of the objects is widely known: the blacksmiths who forged them were thought to have immense metaphysical power. The show is essentially themed according to like forms, and not in terms of any ethnographic conventions. The aesthetic nature of these objects is primary, and is acknowledged as such, but as Nel comments, one cannot look through a Western lens to appreciate this. He acknowledges an extraordinary ability to deal with the abstract in these pieces, which from our point of view, is a late twentieth century development in our own cultural production.

They are stored as accrued wealth, in a similar but not identical manner as ritualised objects. These objects are considered assets in and of themselves by those who produced them, not through any colonial or global exchange programmes that have bestowed value in a politically and socio-historically dubious manner. So, through careful object choice and placement, "Bridewealth" manages to insert itself into the gap between a Manichean notion of African arts as 'craft' (functional) on one hand, and as 'high art' in a Western sense.

When it comes to money, as Nel reiterates, it is only valuable when it circulates. Making this point, he created a site-specific floor installation linking his two exhibitions (his own original work on "Solo Journeys" is on display in the main space) called Circulatory Field: Ruminations on the Heart. Nel threw literally thousands of one cent pieces to form the rudimentary shape of the heart with visible ventricles. Copper, as he explained, is an energy conductor, and currency is the life-blood of any country.

"Bridewealth, Currency and other assets" is a must-see for students and fans of fine art and the humanities. Nel's polymorphous interests and working relationships, that range from palaeo-anthropologists to astronomers and earth scientists, all evidence themselves in various guises in both these exhibitions that promise to enlighten and entertain as well as educate. It has been said that Karel Nel is an international treasure that we are privileged to have in South Africa. I couldn't agree more.

Ends 8 January, 2000

Standard Bank Gallery, corner Simmonds and Fredericks streets
Gallery hours: Mon - Fri, 8am - 4.30pm; Sat 9am - 1pm

Nuno da Cruz
Nuno da Cruz
Blood, Sweat and Tears 1999
117 X 74 cm each
silkscreen on canvas



'The Double Bill' by Nuno da Cruz and Francois Gouws
By Kathryn Smith

"Oh my God, it's New York in Rosebank" was my first thought as I entered Nuno Da Cruz and Francois Gouws' ad hoc gallery in the Firs Shopping Centre. Campari branding announced the entrance and beautiful hipsters were sprinkled about.

Scanning the area to find the infamous da Cruz, I noticed more than a couple of 'sold' stickers. Walking closer to do a quick mental tally, I was pleasantly surprised. These guys were making a small packet here, and within a mere half an hour of the space being opened. Da Cruz is a full time artist and operates out of a flat in Killarney. His work has a definite Warholian feel, spiced up with a bit of local beefcake (Mmm, Nice Chicken was a favourite), chocolate wrappers and cocktails. No conceptual navel-gazing here. Rather, it's arresting, seductive and it looks great above the sofa.

With an apparent fetish for sport and those who play it, puritans are likely to call Francois Gouws the poor man's Peet Pienaar, but this would be unfair. Hot acid-pastel portraits of Bobby Skinstad beam from the walls while James Small, in silk-screened action replay, scores try after try. Gouws has the wily gall to juxtapose Greek athletes (whose mythical escapades are brimming with homoeroticism) with our Bobby and vintage dead movie stars in L'Apres-Midi des Ephebes.

As I turned to leave, friends, fans and hangers-on hustled to get Nun da Cruz's attention. Luminous in the reflected glow from the bright walls, everyone was exquisitely self-aware. With a name like Nuno da Cruz, what else can you be but gorgeous?

Firs Shop 28, Rosebank
Gallery hours: Monday - Friday: 10.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.; Saturday: 10.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m.

Walter Oltmann
Walter Oltmann
Cricket



Steven Cohen

Steven Cohen
Calling Elu



'Babel' babble: 70 artists at the Johannesburg Civic
By Kathryn Smith

Cell phones have infiltrated every aspect of our lives to the extent that they are considered no longer a luxury but a necessity, a status symbol that is equally disposable and desirable. For 'Babel', 70 artists were required to select several cell phone accessories (pouches) each and come up with an interpretation. The work is loosely arranged according to four themes: sex and violence, communication, fetish objects and finally, pieces from artists who chose to work directly with the object, whether physically or metaphorically. The quality ranges from the excellent to the predictable. Advertising pay-off lines and product branding come under fire in Wim Botha's Make Yourself Hurt and Isabel Rea's Eric's Son. Merryn Singer and Natasha Christopher create the sublime out of the "cor, blimey" with Blood Cell and Confessional respectively; and Frikkie Eksteen's Earwig and Walter Oltmann's Cricket allude to the irritation-potential and love-hate relationship we have with cellphones. Anton Kannemeyer's Untitled reworks a cartoon from a New Yorker original, painting his version on the back of the packaging for an Ericsson carrying case. A tangerine-suited manifestation of his alter ego, Joe Dog, barks down the phone, "No, Thursday's out. How about never? Is never good for you?" Enough said.

After Dave Beasley, chairman of the MTN Art Institute opened the show, Steven Cohen and Elu treated us to a new version of Cohen's Taste performance called Calling Elu. Cohen demonstrated his uncanny ability to break through any comfort zones or safety nets we may construct by directly confronting his accusers and admirers on the issue of 'bad taste': wearing the front half of a black evening dress, purple wig, racoon tail and latex balaclava, he performed to death threats received on his home answering machine and drank a perverse toast with Elu, quite literally consuming his own excesses. Any reservations the FNB Vita may have of Cohen's ability for 'bad taste' performance work were internalised, ejected and devoured again by the artist himself. It was stunning, and quite fittingly, left the audience speechless.

'Babel Tower' is a must-see, especially if you are having trouble Christmas shopping. Featuring work from most of Gauteng's most exciting young and established artists, some work is ridiculously cheap (where else can you buy an Oltmann original for R500?).

Johannesburg Civic Gallery, Civic Theatre, Loveday Street, Braamfontein
Tel: (011) 403-3408
Fax: (011) 403-3412
E-mail: civic@theatrekom.co.za
Website: www.artslink.co.za/civic

Kendell Geers

Kendell Geers
Conspiracy Theory
Video Installation



John Currin

John Currin



William Kentridge

William Kentridge
Drawing for Stereoscope, 1999
charcoal and pastel on paper
31 x 47 in. (80 x 120 cm)
Private collection, Los Angeles



Ernesto Neto

Ernesto Neto
Nude Plasmic
Installation



INTERNATIONAL

Carnegie International: 99/00
by Laurie Ann Farrell

The 1999 Carnegie International is the 53rd installment in this institution's historic tradition of being the so-called "arbiter" of contemporary art (to use curator Madeleine Grynsztejn's words). Reading about the history of this exhibition, I was impressed to find that past jurors include Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Pierre Bonnard, Thomas Eakins, and Marcel Duchamp, to name a few. Members of the 1999 Carnegie International Advisory Committee included Okwui Enwezor, Artistic Director of Documenta, Kassel, Germany; Susanne Ghez, Director of The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago; and Lars Nittve, Director of the Tate Gallery of Modern Art, London.

The exhibition inhabits two floors of the museum and includes works by 41 artists from 22 countries. According to Grynsztejn the exhibition asks, "What constitutes the real?" in an analogous fashion to nineteenth-century Realists such as Courbet. The "realists" of this exhibition use a diverse range of media and varied visual vocabularies in an effort to articulate preoccupations with the real. Grynsztejn groups their different approaches into three categories: art that involves the viewer through interactive works that use time, sound, smell, and movement as evidence of their commitment to the real (Janet Cardiff, Ernesto Neto and Gabriel Orozco); art that mirrors reality through obsessive fabrications (Matthew Barney, Bodys Isek Kingelez, and Martin Kippenberger); and artists that explore the slippage between reality and fiction (Sam Taylor-Wood, Kerry James Marshall, and Pierre Huyghe).

The exhibition was a visual treat. The works inhabit their respective spaces naturally and are spaced in such a way that creates a comfortable pace and rhythm. In addition, the exhibition is cleverly curated. Grynsztejn juxtaposes playful works, such as Ernesto Neto's interactive Nude Plasmic, that invites visitors into its ethereal, web-like interior, with John Currin's sensualized paintings of women that look as if they have stepped off of a Northern Renaissance canvas.

One highlight of the show was Kendell Geers' installation piece Poetic Justice. Reflecting on the theme of the exhibition while walking through Mr. Geers' piece one is confronted with a very unsettling vision of reality. Placed in a walkspace and in front of John White Alexander's mural The Crowning of Labor (a nineteenth-century image created when Pittsburgh was known as a culturally and economically vibrant steel town), Geers' space is framed by a metal scaffold structure, wires, cables, and numerous television monitors. This piece immediately commands the visitor's attention as it mixes images of torture (including a clip from the film Conspiracy Theory showing Mel Gibson's eyes artificially pinned open as he is tortured) and imprisonment (a character with a bag over his head thrashes about helplessly). These images loop continuously and flash across the screens effectively stunning viewers. Perhaps the "poetic justice" in this piece is the fact that Mr. Geers' installation provides discomfort and sensations of dis-ease to the viewer while commenting on the popularity and marketing of these images in today's popular culture. Geers has carefully chosen images that one cannot easily forget, even after leaving the space. The placement of Poetic Justice in front of Alexander's mural provides an additional critique on images of the powerful and the powerless and cultural methods used to desensitize these images through slick packaging and selective editing.

Another powerful piece in the show is Nahum Tevet's A Page from a Catalogue. A small square space has been neatly packed with geometric structures resembling office furniture pieces that have not found their mates. As one walks around the periphery of A Page one gains a sense that the artist has carefully laid out this chaotic array in an effort to convey an important message. One summation of this piece is an ordered chaos of interesting diaphanous zones and diagonal vistas that can be found as one peers through the openings of this construction.

Moving further into the exhibition, Ann Hamilton's welle seemed a little out of place in this exhibition. From a distance, Hamilton's piece looks like a blank white wall. Yet upon closer examination, one can see water beads cascading down the wall. It is evident that she is playing with architectural structures and space as metaphors for the human body, but the work's effectiveness is hampered by the cones that have been set out in an effort to prevent visitors from slipping on the water as it pools up on the ground

As a New Yorker all too familiar with the 'Sensation' surrounding Chris Ofili, I found the installation of his works at the Carnegie to be far more successful than those at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and Gavin Brown's Enterprise in Chelsea. The space at the Carnegie is open, with high ceilings, and shows Ofili's works in a setting that allows the viewer room to stand back and appreciate the beauty of the surfaces. Working in a "pointilistic" manner that recalls Australian aboriginal art, Ofili's surfaces shimmer with sequin-like media and glossy surfaces. One has to wonder if New York's recent controversy over Ofili's use of elephant dung would have taken place if viewed in the Carnegie context.

William Kentridge's film Stereoscope was declared winner of the 1999 Carnegie prize. The film is the end product of numerous charcoal drawings that have been modified, erased, and reworked into frames for projection. Stereoscope references his South African context but also deals with issues and concerns seemingly local though pertinent to each venue and every audience. Perhaps it is the multivalency and artistic virtuosity of Stereoscope that set his work apart from the other entries. To be sure, Kentridge is framing this vision of "reality" in a manner that doesn't merely reinvent the wheel. Works like Stereoscope break new ground through the blending of stereoscopic (or three-dimensional) images, use of esoteric metaphors, the inclusion of a powerful musical score, and the visual chronicling and critique of power and instability in an increasingly complex world.

Accompanied by a two-volume catalogue that includes cutting-edge scholarship by authors such as Madeleine Grynsztejn, Jonathan Crary, Jean Fisher, Saskia Sassen, Slavoj �i�ek, and Alyson Baker, the 'Carnegie International' is a notable exhibition for purveyors of contemporary art. On show is a diverse range of artistic productions available for ocular delight, and intellectual investigation, providing insight into issues of multicultural globalism that are accessible "realities" to everyone.

The 'Carnegie International' can be seen at The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until March 26, 2000.

- Laurie Farrell is an Associate Curator at the Museum for African Art, New York.

National Museum of Ghana

The National Museum of Ghana in Accra



National Museum of Ghana



Tracey Rose

Tracey Rose
Ongetiteld (Untitled) 1996
video



'South Meets West' in Ghana
by Zayd Minty

The National Museum of Ghana in Accra was host to the opening on November 9 of South Meets West - a contemporary art show billed as the meeting of Southern and West Africa, with artists and curators from such diverse areas as Cameroon, Benin, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Ivory Coast participating. The show, the first contemporary art exhibition in Ghana, was dominated by South Africans with Tracey Rose, Jane Alexander, Minnette Vari, Kendell Geers and Zwelethu Mthethwa exhibiting work of which most had previously been seen elsewhere. Due to travel to Switzerland next, the show will be installed at the Swiss curator, Dr. Bernhard Fibicher's institution Kunsthalle Bern in 2000.

Since the work of three artists - including the proposed centre piece, Tapfuma Gutsa's Genocide and Hwange - was either lost or delayed in transit, it was difficult to perceive the exhibition as a full show. Gutsa's work in particular, which arrived on the day most of the foreign guests and journalists left, is installation based with large sculptural elements depicting human catastrophe. A pessimistic reflection of the wars and difficulties of working life in Africa, its absence, in the central circular space in the now aging modernist design building considerably reduced the impact of the show.

Designed as a showcase to Pan-Africanism, the National Museum is on grounds resembling a small village with a central area for outdoor functions including an open cafeteria, and sculptural garden cluttered with African socialist sculpture. The exhibition made use of this interesting outdoor space with Fernando Alvim's piece - a soccer match between the six-person teams of AIDS and War - performed on the day of the opening; Yocouba Tour�'s slave boat and Meschac Gaba's ramshackle 'museum shop'. Gaba's work, a play on the institution of the museum and of art marketing, is a shack-like store reminiscent of trading stalls all over West Africa. The store sells Gaba's curios and jewelry (made from old banknotes) together with the work of artist friends from Amsterdam, where Gaba now resides. The piece, which has been shown in Europe, loses some of its strength in an African context where it easily becomes confused as part of the landscape. Alvim's work, on the other hand, was a potent comment on the two lethal scourges scarring the African landscape and the popular response to it.

The works inside the main space were to a large extent video-based, with Ghanian visitors being startled both by video as an unfamiliar visual art medium and by the works, especially those of Vari and Rose, depicting naked bodies being transformed. Geer's video installation between the devil and the deep blue sea, a sometimes overwhelming piece with 12 monitors emitting a wail of anguish from a looped movie clip, was an impactful work extending far beyond the Museums walls from where it could still be heard some distance away. In curating the exhibition with a sense of context, an ideal opportunity was missed in not working with the National Museums beautiful heritage collection, which was unceremoniously and offensively shoved into dark corners.

The almost archaic abstract paintings by the only Ghanain on show, Atta Kwami, recall the indigenous architecture, textiles and musical rhythms of Ghanain reality and sat uncomfortably next to the two photographic pieces from Yinka Shonibare's groundbreaking UK show of a black man posed as an 18th century Victorian dandy, the centre of attention of a number of adoring white people.

The popular Ghanain response to the show was of bewilderment and amazement and while some of the subject matter proved shocking to a few, there was an overall readiness and enthusiasm to engage and experience something different. The educational component of the show enabled some artists to have valuable, and by all reports, vibrant engagements with art students from the Kumasi Arts College. However, the exclusion of other Ghanain cultural workers, led to some disgruntled Ghanain artist voices being heard on the margins, and there was sadly little interaction between the participants in the event with Ghanains and with the Accra cultural landscape generally.

Despite some of its successes, the show is severely flawed, with a broad over-ambitious curatorial framework premised largely on exchange and geographic empowerment. In a rather neo-colonialist manner, the framework of the exhibition, and of the conference attached to it, was set by various Swiss parties, (who appear have had conflicting agendas) and the overwhelming Swiss presence at the event led to many of the African participants commenting that the project was more accurately Switzerland meets Africa. An African curated show was possible and would have undoubtedly been more appropriate.

The conference which followed, continued the flawed trend with topics as broad as : The Curator as Naked King (Simon Njami), Towards defining strategies for Cultural Co-operation in Africa (Clive Kellner), Contemporary Art in Africa (Yvonne Vera), and Recent developments in Western Africa: Tradition and Invention (Yacouba Konate).

The two formal conference days entitled : A View on Developments and Possibilities of Contemporary Art from Southern and Western Africa and Africa Worldwide : an African Outlook produced a jumbled rehash of a number of existing debates in post-colonial thinking, but nonetheless provided fertile grounds for much of the networking and informal discussions which took place during the almost week long encounter.

Besides touching on the art and artefact debate, questions of authenticity and identity, and hinting at new museology and audience development practices in Africa, the discussions looked at African shows particularly in Europe and some of the challenges facing curators and especially those of African descent working outside and in the continent. The lack of any significant Nigerian participation in the event was deeply felt and the conference, initially intended as a curatorial workshop for young curators, became an open session somewhere between public education and theatre. In this process, the opportunity of engaging with real South meets West issues was lost.

The Swiss organizer's rationale for hosting the show in Accra was to set into motion an interest in and a greater flow of contemporary art in and out of Ghana. While an impact has been felt with this valuable encounter, the event again highlights the need for an examination of power relations between European and African cultural interests.

The visit by myself and Veliswa Gwintsa of Johannesburg as emerging curators was made possible with the support of Pro Helvetia

- Zayd Minty is an independent curator based in Cape Town, and is founder of the BLAC collective

Paul Stopforth

Paul Stopforth
The Interrogators 1979
Graphite and wax on board
180 X 99cm



Brett Murray

Brett Murray Guilt and Innocence 1960-90 1999
Photographs, frames
Installation detail



Bridget Baker

Bridget Baker
Stitch (detail) 1998-99
18 embroidered running belts, video projections, 'winter green' aromatherapy oil
Installation room, 230 x 280 x 450cm



Sandile Zulu

Sandile Zulu stands in front of his piece at the Museum for African Art



Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa
by Tumelo Mosaka

Museum for African Art, New York
September 17 1999 - January 2 2000

Internationally curated exhibitions about South Africa have, thus far in my experience, been actualized as conservative survey shows attempting to represent a broad spectrum of artistic production. For example the exhibition 'Colors 1997' (Germany) and 'Democratic Images' 1998 (Sweden), represented works by a diverse group of artists from the country. These exhibitions seemed to lack the curatorial frame that would present the artworks as part of a broader debate about South African culture rather than limiting it to the phenomena of new democracy. I was not too excited when I heard about the contemporary art exhibition planned for the Museum for African Art in New York. Knowing how conservative the museum is, I was suspicious of their interest and wondered how different the curator's approach to South African contemporary art would be, since the museum's focus until now has been on older and more traditional African art objects.

Last week, the Museum for African Art in New York opened its doors on the exhibition 'Liberated Voices; Contemporary Art from South Africa'. Its aim, according to the press release, was to "highlight the major art trends in the contemporary art practice of South Africa" by presenting over 65 paintings, sculptures, photographs and video installations created post-1994, marking the new democracy in South Africa and engaged in current developments that inform present artistic production. On viewing the exhibition, my previous suspicion was dispelled and replaced by excitement to see both younger and older artists represented in the line up. Surprisingly, this year New York has displayed a number of exhibitions by numerous and diverse South African artists. Currently on view is the postcard exhibition from South Africa at the Axis Gallery in Chelsea, and in February of this year, William Kentridge showed in the Project Room at the Museum of Modern Art. Thus, it seems to be an appropriate time to engage an audience in New York with the struggles and triumphs of South African history and culture.

The museum is situated on Broadway near Houston Street in Manhattan, a very trendy, business and shopping district with a high ratio of upscale commercial galleries dealing in contemporary art. As a repository of African art and artifacts, the Museum for African Art generally seems somewhat displaced in this highly commercialized environment.

From the standpoint of the museum, the initiative of presenting contemporary art from South Africa is an unusual one, and taking on the risk of dealing with material outside their area of expertise has been a transgressive act on their part. In dedicating the entire exhibition space to contemporary South African art, the museum has broadened its scope and become receptive to other issues involving the African continent and particularly contemporary art. Therefore the liberation mentioned in the title also celebrates the institution's progress from its narrow approach towards material culture to a broader mission now encompassing contemporary art. It is also a triumph for contemporary African art, since its legitimacy in the west has been continuously undermined by institutions preferring only to acknowledge the traditional art and artifacts as unique to African tribal expression.

The gallery is divided into two floors, the top consisting predominantly of photographs, paintings and mixed media pieces by Willie Bester, David Koloane, Sue Williamson, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Richman Buthelezi, Samson Mnisi, Brett Murray, Penny Siopis and Thabiso Phokompe. The ground floor begins with installation works by Sandile Zulu, Bridget Baker and wooden sculptures by Claudette Schreuders. The works represented in this exhibition presents different narratives ranging from the personal positions of artists to general social commentary. On entering the upper gallery, we are introduced to the exhibition by Paul Stopforth's The Interrogators (1979). The wax and graphite triptych portrays three special branch officers accused of interrogating student leader Steve Biko. This work introduces the viewer to the brutality and inhumanity of the oppressive apartheid system. The dark faces of the interrogators seem to emerge and float on top of a black background alluding to the mysterious nature of their deeds. The work becomes the preamble for representing the violence and trauma of South Africa pre-1994 while still trapped in the grip of apartheid. Contrary to this politically motivated work, are Zwelethu Mthethwa's colorful interior portraits. His images represent interior spaces of informal housing in Cape Town, Gugulethu. They present the subject in an affirming and confident position that contrasts with their abysmal and abject living conditions. They symbolize a strong conviction of hope and determination in the eyes of the subjects that bely the poverty that surrounds them.

The title 'Liberated Voices' presupposes that in the post-apartheid South Africa since 1994, there is no struggle. It would be na�ve for anybody to think that after decades of apartheid and only four years of burgeoning democracy, the needs of the majority could be met. The works by Richman Buthelezi comment on the awareness and education of environmental issues by using recycled plastic as a medium for his artistic expression. On the other hand, the works of Sue Williamson respond to aspects of attempted social transformation that has currently captured the attention of the public through the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Her photo-textual montages reflect on the narratives of some of the victims such as Steve Biko, and Amy Biehl, who were both students. The diversity of artists is not only reflected in the works but also in their individual concerns related to material production. The works of the older artists such as David Koloane, Willie Bester, Sue Williamson and Penny Siopis are presented in the first part of the exhibition and reflect on the politics of South Africa much more directly. The younger artists, reflecting personal and social experiences in their country, dominate the entire exhibition.

The curator's approach to this exhibition has been to focus on younger artists. It is not often that young artists are given such a thorough visibility, especially in conventional museum exhibitions. I had expected the same names of artists that have become international brand names to appear, like Kendell Geers and Kay Hassan, but was fortunately surprised. The new names to have emerged are Brett Murray, Samson Mnisi, Thabiso Phokompe, Sandile Zulu, Richman Buthelezi, Bridget Baker and Claudette Schreuders. These artists inject new energies that reflect current thinking by young South Africans who are not necessarily overtly political in their expression but seem to have a deeper interest in the social position of the individual, in this case the artist. Works by Bridget Baker reflect the intimacy of the artist's relationship with her family and friends. In a two-video projection, the left screen shows a close up of Baker's face rising and falling while she runs. She is unaware of the viewer and we see only her side profile. On the adjoining screen, a crowd of marathon runners move towards her. On the projection areas are reflective running belts with biblical quotes and abstracts from her personal diary. The work is titled Stitch, and represents a metaphorical endurance of pain that is a result of a failed relationship. In contrast, Sandile Zulu has presented burnt canvases with burnt grass evoking the violence and brutality pervasive in South Africa and in all society. Through his manipulation of natural resources such as grass and fire, Zulu draws our attention to the potent forces of nature unmasking the potential of violence and aggression latent in nature and humanity. Apartheid in South Africa has been a torch of fire from which the majority of South Africans have been brutalized. The scars left by the flames become signs of pain and suffering that still prevail up to the present day. The process of healing has been slow and an ongoing process that still has a long way to go. To say that we are truly liberated is to ignore the reality of current South Africa. This new democracy, which has been framed as a liberation by many in the west, is merely the first step towards liberation. The works on this exhibition are testament to the process of change that is not only a lesson for South Africa, but also one for all humanity. It has allowed artists to adopt new attitudes towards art making that re-examines and articulate new positions, which artists now have the liberty to explore.

Closes January 2000

- Tumelo Mosaka is a South African curator currently based at Bard College in the US

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