1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective
This large exhibition, which occupies the entire Gallery, showcases the history and diversity of modern and contemporary South African art from the time of the formation of the Union of South Africa a century ago to the present.
The exhibition covers the period when modern South African art started to articulate itself in relation to the rest of the world. The selection, primarily from the Iziko South African National Gallery permanent collection is supplemented by works on loan from other public and corporate collections around the country. Audiences can look forward to modern gems and rare treasures by Gerard Sekoto, Irma Stern, George Pemba, Maggie Laubser, Gerard Bhengu, JH Pierneef, Durant Sihlali and Dumile Feni. The exhibition acknowledges important developments in local art history such as Polly Street, Rorke’s Drift, DRUM magazine,
Resistance Art, and the rise of South Africa’s energetic contemporary art scene.
A rare overview of South African art. Don’t miss it!
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I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.- Mahatma Gandhi
This extensive exhibition, occupying the whole gallery, has been produced to showcase the history and diversity of South African art. It is intended to provide insight into the soul of our complex nation, from the hilltops of the Union Buildings a hundred years ago to the townships of Cape Town today.
The exhibition has two primary aims: one to show works from the permanent collection and secondly to give a survey of the diversity of art production from around the country. It acknowledges important developments in local art history such as the articulation of a modern art movement, Polly Street, Rorkes Drift, Resistance Art, and the rise of South Africa’s energetic contemporary art scene, the subject of much recent attention abroad.
Art does not exist in isolation and with this in mind the exhibition endeavours to simultaneously reflect on important moments over this period. Tretchikoff’s Herb Seller (1948) − the first time a Tretchikoff has been shown at the National Gallery − is set against the backdrop of United Party and National Party election posters. Willie Bester’s conviction to make art “as a nasty tasting medicine for awakening consciences” hints at the scars of the past that continue to impact on our conditions in the present. At the same time the present has its own challenges, as reflected tongue-in-cheek in Stuart Bird’s Zuma Biscuits (2007).
While the exhibition aims to showcase prominent artists and some iconic works of art in the permanent collection such as Jane Alexander’s Butcher Boys (1985/86) and Andries Botha’sAlleenspraak in Paradys (1991), many of the loans open a window on some less known artists and pieces such as Jabulani Ntuli’s detailed pencil drawings from the 1940s.
It is a fact that colonialism and apartheid have robbed generations of black people in this country of their dignity. But it is not all doom and gloom. The emergence of black photographers responding to black conditions in DRUM magazine show a deeper insight and range of emotions in the representation of black people. This is reflected in the humiliation of imprisonment for trivial offences under apartheid at the Old Fort prison in Johannesburg seen in Bob Gosani’s 1954 photo to Ranjith Kally’s depiction of acclaimed visiting musician Tony Scott at Pumpy Naidoo’s Goodwill Lounge jazz club in Durban in 1960.
Deborah Bell’s Lover’s in the Cinema (1985) speaks on the universal theme of love, something that we can all identify with. Both Brett Murray (Xhosa, 2002) and Sthembiso Sibisi (Going Home, 2005) use humour to comment on the local condition. For locals Ed Young’s Bruce Gordon [Torino] (2005) may have special significance recalling the conceptual piece from 2003, where a bar owner (a found object) was purchased by the National Gallery and the acquisition number tattooed on the artwork (or bar owner’s arm).
While reflecting on art from around the country during this period it is also important to take cognisance of the perils of nationalism. I am reminded of the graffiti painted on a wall on the corner of Hunter and Cavendish streets in Yeoville, Johannesburg, near where I used to live. It quotes from Nelson Mandela’s 1994 inauguration speech, “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.” Only fourteen years later in 2008, one of the most traumatic events in the democracy has been the xenophobic attacks, which left many bodies in its wake and thousands mentally scarred. With this in mind we have also included a selection from the exhibition US − curated by Bettina Malcomess and Simon Njami − featuring a handful of young artists commenting on the issue and bringing the making of art in this country full circle.
This exhibition also coincides with a new vision for the National Gallery, one that aims to be more inclusive in the audiences we appeal to, more critical in the selection of our exhibitions and in the work that we acquire, more diverse in the composition and views of the people that make up our committees, and more representative of the diversity of cultures that make up this multifaceted country. And all of this on a national level.
This exhibition would not have been possible without the generous loans and cooperation from the following institutions and individuals:
Durban Art Gallery, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Tatham Art Gallery, Pretoria Art Museum, Bruce Campbell-Smith, Killie Campbell Collections (University of KwaZulu-Natal), Standard Bank Gallery, BHP Billiton, Sanlam Art Gallery, Michael Stevenson, Goodman Gallery Cape, Wits Art Museum, University of Cape Town Works of Art Collection, Mayibuye Centre (University of Western Cape), Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, Iziko Museums (Social History Collections), Baileys African History Archive (BAHA), Bailey-Seippel Gallery, Seippel Gallery, Brodie Stevenson, Gallery MOMO, Blank Projects, Heidi Erdmann Contemporary, Stellenbosch Modern and Contemporary (SMAC), Robert Prince, Peter Mckenzie, Pierre Fouche, Leopold Podlashuc, Rhona Dubow, Peter Robin Mills, Chris Ledochowski, Bridget Baker, Mabasa Family, Angela Lloyd-Read, Candice Breitz, Robin Rhode, Rashid Lombard, Rafs Mayet, James Webb, Adrian Kholer, Pierre Fouche, Jenny Altshuler, Jenny Gordon, Dawood Petersen, Omar Badsha, Ed Young, Willie Bester and Lisa Brice.
A special thanks to Iziko Museums and related departments for funds and skills relocated towards this exhibition: Finance, Institutional Advancement and Human Resources. This exhibition has been a team effort that involved all the curators and staff at the National Gallery. Thanks must go to Pam Warne for her advice on photography and video, Hayden Proud for his knowledge of the collection, and Carol Kaufmann for the beadwork and staffs on display. Robyn Leigh-Cedras for coordinating the numerous loans, and together with Nigel Scholtz and Brian Gwavu, for their tireless efforts in driving around, often to the far corners of the Cape, to collect artworks. William Visagie, Majiet Issacs, Quinton Fortuin and Mnoneleli Mbali all assisted with technical installation and preparation. George Reeves for the design.
Andrea Lewis deserves special praise for her commitment and enthusiasm and overall coordination of different aspects of the show. Lastly but not least I would like to thank Joe Dolby, who with his years of institutional experience, generous sharing of his knowledge and open mind was a most valuable partner in crime from the beginning of the process − when we travelled around the country together to look at works in other collections − to the final label being placed.