'Review Revue' at Goodman Gallery Cape
by Andrew Lamprecht
In presenting their latest offering, Goodman Gallery Cape has chosen to look at the long and distinguished history of the Goodman Gallery, and offer a review of some of the highlights of the gallery's past by showcasing works by a selection of their stalwarts, friends and 'discoveries' over the years.
This is linked, through the show's title, to the notion of a theatrical revue. A revue brings together a variety of acts and performances that together form a unified and entertaining diversion. This notwithstanding, and as the Goodman Cape suggests it in their publicity, 'the revue has also traditionally been a site for implicit commentary on current affairs, the challenging of prevalent social mores and political systems.' Another idea implicit in the revue, with its diversity of forms and themes, is that one need not fret if an aspect of the show is not to one's taste, as something else will soon crop up that one loves. The idea is that nobody walks out of a revue due to boredom or irritation.
This is the case here. I imagine that the number of local galleries that could muster an exhibition of this quality and variety from their stockrooms could be counted on one hand, leaving a few fingers to spare. Here we see Stren, Battiss, Sekoto, Skotnes, Kentridge, Koloane, Feni, Geers, Hodgins, Legae, Muafangejo, et al in a quantity and quality that truly takes one's breathe away: a truly awe-inspiring revue and a tribute to Linda Givon's eye and mind as founder and guiding spirit of the Gallery until very recently.
The works cover a period of fifty decades and demonstrate the shifts and vagaries that have characterised South African art over this period, albeit through the filter of the Goodman Gallery's focus on the challenging, politically conscious and anti-authoritarian within that period. What is particulary heartening is that despite all this there is no evidence of braggadocio or 'told you so' about this assemblage: it is a fair review of what the Goodman has consistently showcased and striven to present over the years.
In seeing this array of work I was reminded of how versatile Norman Catherine can be, as in his beautiful BatEarO'Cat (1974), and also how skilled Sue Williamson's printmaking is with her moving and conceptually powerful Mandela: The First Photograph (1990). For me this was the most salutary aspect of 'Review Revue': the demonstration of the importance of the artists who have passed into 'the canon', not through didacticism or blind insistence but by means of showing their work for what it is.
Williamson's collaged print, built up with layers of paper and found images, demonstrates how history and obfuscation play their part in our reception of historical events. The photograph to which the title alludes is placed in the bottom right-hand corner, almost falling off the page, as if it is a summation of the textual landscape that surmounts it. The array of Walter Battiss works, ranging from a San-inspired Surfing (1971) to his sensitive and Cocteau-like The Lovers (1971) is another striking reminder of the resourcefulness of one of our 'greats'. Surfing recalls Battiss's lifelong engagement with and passion for rock art but brings a fresh and witty approach to the stylistic language of cave painting: something that only a lifelong dialogue with San art could do.
Few could dispute Bill Ainslie's monumental influence on our art through his teaching of the likes of David Koloane, Dumile Feni and William Kentridge, amongst many others, and his establishment of The Johannesburg Art Foundation. Yet it is sometimes easy to forget what a wonderful understanding of abstract painting he had, until one sees work like the untitled oil on paper of 1987 on this exhibition.
There are many other gems on the show, and many traces of histories both visible and invisible. Whether seen as a review of thirty-nine years of the Goodman's history, or a revue of talent and struggle through art, this show makes a very forcible point: South African art, during years of isolation and Apartheid domination, had a fine and memorable point of focus in the Goodman Gallery.
Neil Dundas, the unacknowledged curator of the show, has also been at pains to make subtle links between the artists, almost all of whom are linked to each other through relationships of friendship, pupil-teacher or physical and temporal proximity. In this the show creates a nostalgic - but never sentimental - air of the artistic and political life that existed during the years of apartheid. In this, then, it is as much a tribute to the artists on the show as it is to their gallerist.
Opened: 7 March 2009
Closed: 28 March 2009
Goodman Gallery Cape
3rd Floor Fairweather House, 176 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock
Tel: (021) 462 7573
Fax: (021) 462 7579
Hours: Tue - Fri 9.30am - 5.30pm, Sat 10am - 4pm
Images courtesy Goodman Gallery Cape and the Artists.