Various Artists at Goodman GalleryBy Jessica van der Hoek
16 October - 13 November. 0 Comment(s)
'Open End’ at the Goodman Gallery Cape was a recent group exhibition of paintings produced by established and emerging artists and encompassing a vast array of styles.
Swedish-born Tom Cullberg exhibits a series of four abstract pieces that examine the tensions between the rational and the chaotic. Minnette Vári shows two anamorphic landscapes painted in Indian ink, which were part of her solo exhibition ‘Parallax’ in Johannesburg earlier this year. Lisa Brice shows one new work and one from a previous exhibition. The new piece, Untitled, is an oil painting of a young man posing suggestively against a jungle backdrop of trees. The piece from 2005, the Absinthe Drinker shows a young woman sitting at a table in a setting reminiscent of Degas' work of the same title; the result is a painting with an awkwardly familiar feel but rendered with Brice’s style and choice of colour.
Kudzanai Chiuri has After You Win the Title displayed before the entrance of the gallery, along with two large murals created in situ and painted in graphic novel style. David Koloane’s two cityscapes in oil hang adjacent to a group of paintings by the late Robert Hodgins, while Claire Gavronsky is present with Four Corners of the Earth, in which a delicately-painted naked child is placed against a background of outlined faces which, in turn are intricately joined together. The work is intended to explore the notions of memory and loss. Moshekwa Langa, nearly equalling Hodgins, who has the most work on this exhibition, shows work from ten years ago. Langa’s pieces are painted in bright colours with either child-like painted figures or writing as the subjects, and are displayed on a complementary green painted wall, which immediately draws one’s attention upon entering the space. Lastly, there is Solly Cissé, whose advertised nine small monochrome paintings were nowhere to be seen.
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When walking into the gallery, however, one finds it is difficult to move between the paintings by various artists on show. It is essential that with a group exhibition of around thirty works, labels are available to allow the viewer to pass from one art work to the next smoothly. In gathering together paintings by nine (or in reality eight, with the absence of Cissé) very different artists, the gallery claims in the press release to offer a show curated around the notion of creating from a position of uncertainty, as a conscious departure from conceptually predetermined works. The gallery apparently wished to underline a hunt or wrestle for meaning through search and exploration, finding the medium of paint to be a perfect starting point for examining these notions. Uncertainty, along with attendant ideas of nebulousness and accident, the logic seems to run, is inherent in the medium of paint.
Although not denying the medium its element of uncertainty and accident, I find it hard to attribute these notions to every painting in this exhibition. The uncertainty in the art-making process that the gallery says this exhibition examines seems to give more of an illusion of the work being chanced or unorganized and the artists unprepared when commencing these works. Closer inspection reveals that many of the paintings are carefully planned out. Brice based the position of the subject and the angle of the table in her piece The Absinthe Drinker on Degas’ original. Vári’s landscapes that morph into a human form when the viewer changes perspective to look at the work side-on, clearly took careful planning, not to mention very conscious reference to Goya and the follies of humankind.
Similarly, Cullberg’s perfectly placed lines amongst the chaos of the darker splashes of colour, and the effort and repetition that went into the background of Gavronsky’s painting are examples of preparation and certainty. It is of course true that in the use of paint, accidents and chance occur in the art-making process. Yet, the execution of the works and the message that the gallery wants the works to send seem a bit skewed. This is also partly due to the fact that the audience cannot see the search or the accidents that the press release claims were part of the process of producing these pieces. It makes one question whether the inclusion of Chiurai’s in situ murals, still surrounded with paint pots, a ladder and painting overalls, was simply to add something concrete to aims that the press release wanted to portray as a work that attempts to highlight the art-making process.
The intertwining of Hodgins’ paintings from two decades ago with the more contemporary paintings of Moshekwa and the difference in styles between Cullberg and Koloane for example shows a good mix of the medium. However, this intertwining also highlights that these works were not created with the aims in mind that the curators wished to explore. A certain lack of curatorial cohesion emerges, as many of these works function differently out of the ‘Open End’ context and in the contexts for which they were originally created. Fuzzy curatorial logic can’t conceal the fact that they were not created with this exhibition in mind; as such they often fail to reflect the aims of the curators of the show.