Pick of the week: excellent exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery


Exact imaginationCurrently showing at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg CBD is a fascinating exhibition entitled Exact Imagination 300 Years of Botanically Inspired Art in South Africa.  The third in a series of 4 exhibitions at the Standard Bank Gallery which focuses on the elements – the first two being Water : The Delicate Thread of Life (2011) and Fire! The Role of Heat and Light in African Art (2013) – this exhibition uses the theme of plants as a way to access the element of earth.   The curator Cyril Coetzee, who used to be a colleague when I lectured in Art History at Wits and is now a practicing portrait artist and art-teacher, has brought together 3 different themes:  botanical illustrations; contemporary art inspired by botanical subject matter; and art and artefacts that are made from plant matter.  There are several reasons why this exhibition is so extraordinary.  It is not only the quality of what is on show but also the sensitive way in which themes have been juxtaposed and  ‘speak’ to each other,  either through the visual and aesthetic connections or because of subtle thematic connections.   It is also a very rare opportunity for the public to have access to such an

Georg Dionysus Ehret & Jacob Van Huysum Aloe Ferox engraving with watercolour added 1737 SANBI (photograph from the catalogue)

Georg Dionysus Ehret & Jacob Van Huysum Aloe Ferox  1737 engraving with watercolour added, SANBI (photograph from the exhibition catalogue)

outstanding range of botanical illustrations, sourced mainly from the archives of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), as well as seeing rare antiquarian books from the Mary Gunn Library at SANBI.   Coetzee has also included a range of illustrations of South African grasses, tantalizingly juxtaposed with beautifully woven basket-ware, beaded Ndebele and Sotho calabash and wood dolls, and photographs of reed huts and large scale grain baskets.  The botanical illustrations are breathtaking in their observation of minute detail; their delicacy and fineness; the demonstration of consummate skill and patience in the making process; and their remarkable state of preservation.   There are illustrations dating back to the early 18th Century.

Intricate workmanship and skilled handling of medium is also seen in many of the works by contemporary fine artists as well as the producers of more traditional artefacts.   They demand what I would call an ‘absorptive mode of engagement’.  Works by Oltmann (Cactus and Disarticulated Flower ) as well as Esta Zulu’s Spiralling Energy  involve an intricate

Esta Zulu Spiralling Energy 2014 Woven sisal and grass 60 X 120 X 23 (Standard Bank Collection)

Esta Zulu Spiralling Energy 2014 Woven sisal and grass 60 X 120 X 23 (Standard Bank Collection)

weaving –the former with aluminium wire and the latter with woven sisal and grass.  The beautiful surface and exquisite crafting draw the viewer in, demanding an almost bodily empathy and identification with the making process.  Other artists demonstrate an interest in underlying mathematical structures in nature: Stefanus Rademeyer uses generative algorithms (I still haven’t got my mind around what this means exactly) and Keith Struthers draws on the geometry of plants in his architectural designs. Some use plant material as part of the medium of their work (Karel Nel and Gerhard Marx); and some draw on the iconography of plants and flowers (William Kentridge, Helmut Starcke,  Elizabeth Davison, Michelle Thomas).



Willem Boshoff Garden of Words 1982-1997 6 m by 2m

Willem Boshoff Garden of Words 1 1982-1997 6 m by 2m

Willem Boshoff’s large scale installation deals with endangered species, an area Boshoff has been recording since 1982. Entitled Garden of Words 1 (1982-1997) the installation was first shown at the Sandton Civic Gallery. The names (phylum, genus and species) of 4000 threatened species of plants world-wide, were pasted onto small wooden blocks and placed under 12 sheets of glass in 12 rectangles on the floor. Here only part of the work is exhibited.  Alan Crump’s watercolours of what Skawran calls ‘wounded’ landscapes demonstrate a similar concern with the destruction of natural habitat.

The accompanying catalogue is very reasonably priced at R200 and is arranged in the same categories as the exhibition: the first chapters dealing with history of botanical illustration in South Africa, further chapters dealing with the use of grass and plant matter in South African material culture and the final chapters dealing with contemporary art inspired in some way by plant material and botanical art.

A series of lunchtime lectures is also scheduled , although as the programme might be subject to change, it is advisable to phone 011 631 4467 to check there are no changes to the programme.

5th November John Rourke History of Botanical Art in South Africa

12th November Braam Van Wyk Remarkable  Wild Flowers of Gauteng

19th November Ben-Erik Van Wyk Indigenous plant-based medicines; The fiction and the fact

26th November Vivienne Williams The history of medicinal plants in South Africa

And if you are lucky there might still be some posters available. The exhibition closes on the 6th December.

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A quick guide to Joburg’s main art galleries

Joburg has long been regarded as the Cinderella at the cultural ball, in the shadow of her more glamorous step-sister, Cape Town.  However, the city has emerged during the last 20 years as a dynamic centre of  cutting-edge arts activity, offering a whole range of art galleries catering to the tastes of cultural aficionados and different art buying markets.  Many galleries in Johannesburg sell the traditionally safe subject matter of landscape, portrait/figure studies and still-life, to which can be added that ubiquitous South African genre:  wild-life painting, all usually in an easily digestible figurative style. I have not mentioned the galleries that sell this kind of work, nor have I mentioned galleries which sell mass-produced curio art under the guise of ‘traditional tribal art’. The selection of galleries I have made is based on their influence within the cultural arena both locally and internationally; their contribution to a critically informed creative debate; the significance of their holdings of established artists from the art historical canon; and their support and promotion of emerging artists who often challenge the status quo.

Jackson Hlungwane's Altar to God in the foyer of the Wits Art Museum

Jackson Hlungwane’s Altar to God in the foyer of the Wits Art Museum

There are several non-commercial galleries in Johannesburg most of which are based in the inner city: WAM in Braamfontein;  the Standard bank Gallery on the west of the city; the ABSA gallery on the east of the city; and the municipality’s Johannesburg Art Gallery in Joubert Park. Across town in Auckland Park is the University of Johannesburg [UJ] Gallery.    

Wits Art Museum cnr Jorissen St and Jan Smuts in Braamfontein. http://www.wits.ac.za/wam/2826/  is one of the most exciting additions to the Joburg arts scene. With the Standard Bank as patron, Wits has built up a very fine holding  of contemporary Southern African art as well as one of the best collections in the country of African art.  These works are now showcased in rotating exhibitions in this wonderful new and contemporary space. 

The Standard Bank as a major sponsor of the arts has its own very impressive gallery space at its head office in Simmonds St., central Joburg. The Standard bank Gallery (www.standardbankarts.com/Gallery.aspx ) has a dynamic cultural programme and has hosted retrospective exhibitions by major South African artists including Irma Stern, Gerard Sekoto, Alexis Preller, Cyprian Shilakoe, Simon Stone to name but a few.  One of the most popular events is the annual exhibition by the incumbent winner of the coveted Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Award. The gallery has also hosted exhibitions of significant 20th century European artists such as Chagall, Miro and in 2006, the Picasso and Africa exhibition.

Also in central downtown Joburg but further to the east at 160 Main St lie the headquarters of another major bank: ABSA. Here in ABSA towers north, there is an impressive collection of site-specific works commissioned for the space when it was being built in 1999. The ABSA Gallery mounts changing exhibitions of contemporary Southern African art.  http://www.absa.co.za/Absacoza/About-Absa/Corporate-Citizenship/Attractions/Absa-Gallery  The UJ Art Gallery hosts 8 to 10 exhibitions annually and they arrange regular walk-abouts providing the viewer with better insight into the current exhibition. www.uj.ac.za/EN/ArtsandCulture/Visual%20Art/Pages/home.aspx 

And finally there are two municipal museums which both have impressive collections but are in a parlous state due to a lack of financial resources, (funding from local government) and a paucity of skilled human resources.  These are Museum Afrika in Newtown (which has an excellent cultural heritage collection) and the Johannesburg Art Gallery in Joubert Park. Tellingly, neither have functioning websites.  

There are several ‘big players’ in the Johannesburg gallery scene with the main ones being Goodman Gallery Parkwood  www.goodmangallery.com;  Everard Read Gallery www.everard-read.co.za; Circa on Jellicoe  www.circaonjellicoe.co.za ; Gallery Momo www.gallerymomo.com; David Krut Projects  www.davidkrut.com; Stevenson Gallery www.stevenson.info;  and Graham’s Gallery www.grahamsfineartgallery.co.za

Goodman Gallery was founded in 1966 by Linda Givon aiming to support and promote artists whose work was engaged and challenging. Initially functioning under the restrictions of Apartheid, Goodman’s stable of artists expressed themes of resistance and critical commentary on the status quo in South Africa. While in the post 1994 era, many of the ideas and narratives developed under the rubric of ‘art for advocacy’ have shifted, Goodman Gallery continues to support artists who challenge the current political, economic and social status quo. Brett Murray’s work The Spear, with all the controversy surrounding it is but one example.  Goodman Gallery (now under the new ownership of Lisa Esser), focuses on artists from South Africa and the continent, as well as international artists whose work engages in a dialogue with the African context.  Goodman Gallery Projects at Arts on Main, the arts precinct in downtown Johannesburg, provides a platform for younger and emerging South African artists to exhibit, and for special projects and installations.

Deborah Bell's large scale bronze of Diana and her hunting dogs outside the Everard Read Gallery

Deborah Bell’s large scale bronze of Diana and her hunting dogs outside the Everard Read Gallery

Everard Read www.everard-read.co.za   Established in 1913, Everard Read is Johannesburg’s oldest gallery. In 1980 Everard Read moved from its downtown location to a purpose-built building in Rosebank designed by Meyer, Pienaar and Partners.  Extending on a 1920s house, which is the gallery´s administrative centre, is a contemporary structure comprising sculpture courtyards and four exhibition areas with clerestory windows that ensure abundant daylight.  Traditionally the clientele at Everard Read has been somewhat conservative with the Gallery exhibiting relatively established artists both South African and international, working in traditional styles and safe genres (no ground-breaking performance art or conceptual art here!)

 Circa Gallery on Jellicoe  www.circaonjellicoe.co.za In 2009, the Circa building was developed alongside the Everard Read gallery. The modern elliptical building designed by Pierre Swanepoel of StudioMAS Architects offers wonderful spaces to exhibit large contemporary works in the changing exhibition calendar.

 Gallery Momo in 7th Ave Parktown North  www.gallerymomo.com represents  international and locally based contemporary artists who produce challenging rigorous and thought–provoking work.

David Krut Projects  www.davidkrut.com is an arts, design and projects space at 142 Jan Smuts Avenue.  In addition to a changing exhibition programme there are prints on sale made by artists in the David Krut Print Workshop (DKW), a collaborative intaglio and monotype studio. Since 1997 Krut has been publishing monographs on South African artists under the TAXI art books series. These are on sale in the bookstore.  David Krut has a satellite space at the Arts on Main complex.

Stevenson Gallery in Juta St Braamfontein www.stevenson.info hosts exhibitions that engage with contemporary art practice in South Africa as well as Africa and its diaspora. They have also brought international artists to South Africa. Stevenson also has an active publication programme that includes catalogues for many of its exhibitions and artists. Juta Street has become another hub for smaller more cutting-edge galleries.

Graham’s Fine Art Gallery is in Sandton at 68 on Hobart, Block A, Cnr. Hobart & Dover Road (Off William Nicol Drive).  As its name suggests it is a very ‘Sandton’ Gallery aimed specifically at the wealthy who buy art for investment.  It has a large and impressive range of works in the traditional media of painting and sculpture by the big names in South African art history from the early 20th century onwards as well as established contemporary artists.

 While most of the galleries mentioned so far cater to the financial elite, there are many options for the more budget conscious buyer. There are galleries that specialize in: smaller scale works (Upstairs at Bamboo www.bamboo-online.co.za/#Upstairs ; prints & graphics (Artist Proof Studio www.artistproofstudio.co.za ); works on paper (AOP www.galleryaop.com ); showcasing emerging artists (Goodman Gallery Projects at Arts on Main and Spaza Gallery  www.spazagallery.wozaonline.co.za) ; supporting local development projects (Resolution Gallery www.resolutiongallery.com )

Have a meal at the Service Station before visiting Upstairs at Bamboo, a small gallery which has short exhibition runs of smaller scale works by usually lesser-known artists that are very reasonably priced.  Artist Proof Studios founded by Kim Berman and Nhlanhla Xaba in 1991, is an Art Education Centre that specializes in printmaking. Located in the Bus Factory in President St Newtown, they hold regular exhibitions of their artists’ works which sell for very affordable prices. Several artists who trained at Artist’s Proof Studios have gone on to exhibit internationally.  Arts on Paper is small and reasonably priced suburban gallery located at 44 Stanley Ave, a private-sector urban regeneration project where 1930s industrial buildings have been converted into speciality boutiques, foodie stops and design studios.  AOP, as its name indicates, has a special focus on works on paper, including all graphic and printmaking techniques as well as drawing.  Catalogues and books on local art are sold through the gallery.  

Lunch under the pergola in Spaza's courtyard

Lunch under the pergola in Spaza’s courtyard

Spaza Gallery located at 19 Wilhemina Street, Troyeville is run by Andrew Lindsay who has livened up much of the inner city with his beautiful and accomplished mosaic work. At Spaza a small low-key gallery and cultural space, you’ll find a range of art, jewellery, mosaic work etc. on offer and the best of all is to go for a Sunday lunch under the pergola in the charming little courtyard at the back of the house.

 Among the various development projects that the Resolution Gallery (140 Jan Smuts Ave) supports are: MonkeyBiz, the Mapula Embroidery Project, and the internationally-renowned Ardmore Ceramic Studio. In Toto Gallery www.intotogallery.co.za is a relative newcomer to the Joburg art scene. It offers a wide range of both local and international contemporary artists who tend to be less well-known.

Another creative place where you can hang out and visit various small exhibition spaces is Arts on Main at the Maboneng precinct, 264 Fox St www.artsonmain.info  There’s also an outdoor cinema, a restaurant and fabulous rooftop bar which offers amazing views of Joburg.

The best place to buy superb pieces of African art is at Kim Sacks Gallery

Kim Sacks Gallery – great African art

For those who are looking specifically for African artefacts the best place to go is Kim Sacks Gallery Parkwood www.kimsacksgallery.com.  Kim Sacks established her gallery in 1986 and, in 1998, moved into the current adobe style building at 153 Jan Smuts Ave. With a keen aesthetic eye for the beautiful and being a teacher, ceramicist and collector herself, the gallery is filled with the most exquisite artefacts from all over Africa. The range includes both traditional and utilitarian objects as well as contemporary works made using traditional techniques.  This gallery is the best place to buy stunningly beautiful African artefacts or simply just ogle with envy!  

Two other sources for African art which are not really galleries are a showroom in the case of Togu’na  www.toguna.co.za  and a warehouse in the case of Amatuli www.amatuli.co.za   At Togu’na’s showroom in Parktown North you’ll find a wide range of objects sourced from all over  Africa, from  exquisitely hand crafted items to large sculptures and items of furniture.  Amatuli has artefacts from Africa although here the selection is a bit more patchy – some real pot-boilers but with the occasional  gem often in a bad state of repair.

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Nice blog on Liz at Lancaster

Forwarding a recent blog on Liz at Lancaster posted by Johannesburg Guesthouses:    http://www.johannesburg-guesthouses.co.za/blog/news/liz-at-lancaster-guest-house/

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