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The Best Event of 2013 - Sue Williamson Chooses Two

By Sue Williamson on 13 January

I can’t laugh anymore, when I can’t laugh I can’t …

Kemang Wa Luhelere
I can’t laugh anymore, when I can’t laugh I can’t … , 2012. Mixed Media

ArtThrob's staff have been asked to reflect on the most interesting event of 2013.  These are founding editor Sue Williamson's choices:

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For me, the two most interesting art events of 2013 were related to the big picture of the position of South African contemporary art on the world stage. Actually, the first of these only just scraped onto the 2013 calendar by finishing its run at the Cape Town Stevenson on January 13.This was the Joost Bosland-curated show ‘Fiction as Fiction (or, a Ninth Johannesburg Biennale)’, the third exhibition in a year-long project in which tribute was paid to the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale.

To date, the second Johannesburg Biennale was the most important art event - in an international sense - that has ever taken place in this country, a significance underscored again recently when its director Okwui Enwezor, who established his reputation with this event, was named director of the next Venice Biennale.

For those lucky enough to attend the second Johannesburg Biennale exhibits in the Electric Workshop and other venues in the Newtown district of Johannesburg, and the satellite exhibition ‘Graft’ at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, curated by the late, great Colin Richards, a new understanding was born of how exhilarating and liberating it could be to be exposed to the latest in contemporary art.

In ‘Fiction as Fiction’, Bosland took the time to imagine that the years between then and now had proceeded as they should on a Biennale calendar, and invited local and international artists to participate in a show which might have been a sampling of the Ninth Johannesburg Biennale. There were many really good works on the show from such artists as Yang Fudong, the Chinese film maker, Robin Rhode, Turner prize finalist painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and local artists Penny Siopis and Kemang Wa Lehulere. But it was the concept of the exhibition itself, the recognition of the important role contemporary art plays (or could play) in the life of a country, and the critical writing around the project, that gave the show special significance.

My second choice as important-event-of-the-year was the announcement of the decision by German collector Jochen Zeitz and curatorial director Mark Coetzee, together with the management of the V&A Waterfront, that Zeitz’s planned museum of contemporary African art would be located in the old grain silos at the Waterfront. For years, contemporary art in South Africa has not received the exposure it deserves. The top commercial galleries, the Goodman and Stevenson, together with all the smaller ones like Blank, WHATIFTHEWORLD/ and others have done their best, but at museum level, contemporary art has had no home of its own.

The Waterfront's Silo Buildings

With the announcement of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art, to be opened in four years time, dizzying prospects have opened up for Cape Town to become a world-class art destination, prospects which will eddy out to the rest of South Africa and also to the rest of Africa. The museum will house the Zeitz collection, but also host a whole variety of exhibitions, from the local and educational, to the kind of large blockbuster international exhibitions which have sometimes bypassed this country for the lack of an appropriate venue. So exciting.

Only one year after the Tate Modern opened in London in 2000, it had become the third most visited tourist attraction in Britain.  There is every reason to anticipate that the Zeitz MOCAA will achieve similar results in South Africa, particularly since it is located in an area which is already a top tourist drawcard, and easily accessible to all. The exhibition space provided will be 6 000 square metres, with another 3 500 dedicated to education and arts development.

The Tate Modern

Interestingly, like the Tate Modern, the new Zeitz MOCAA will be located in a building which is a classic example of functional yet handsome industrial architecture. I really like the old grain silo as it is. A rather glitzy artist’s impression of what the new museum might look like has been released, in which the exterior is cladded in a sort of bubble glass effect. My hope is that consideration will also be given to perhaps leaving the exterior pretty much as it is, as happened with the Tate.

Here, the architects simply broke through the roof of the old power station, and added a glass and steel storey on top.  But whatever the final appearance, the new Zeitz MOCAA, with its commitment to providing a world-class exhibition space to the contemporary artists of this continent will be an enormous asset to the country. Its opening is an event to be greatly anticipated, and in the meantime, a glass pavilion on the Waterfront will host a programme of smaller exhibitions as a trailer to what is to follow.