Report from South Africa – October 2014

Matthew Blackman, editor of online South African art publication, ArtThrob, rounds up the best of this month's magazine's news and reviews

By Matthew Blackman

Mikhael Subotzky, Sticky-tape Transfer 02, South Africa, Strength Through Diversity 1982 (2014) Sarah Biggs, For your Information, Oil on Paper (2014) Chris van Eeden, Radiant Cool Umbrella, mirror ball, knife, mixed media (2014) Brett Murray, Photograph of Brett Murray by Brett Murray of The Spear, Photograph, (2014) Photograph of Minister Nathi Mthethwa

‘Life,’ as the master of the South African linocut tradition, John Muafangejo, wrote on one of his works, ‘is very interesting.’ Of course a similar idea has been ascribed, in a slightly variant form, to an apocryphal Chinese curse. That cursed element certainly seems true if your name is Brett Murray or you take an interest in the internal wranglings of the Department of Arts and Culture in South Africa. This month we had articles on both Murray and the Department but for once (in fact twice) the clouds did have just the faintest diaphanous folds of silver. We also covered two young upcoming painters, a painter/‘installationist’, and a photographer exploring a new path; all of whose work was judged interesting in the more positive sense of the word.

Chris van Eeden at Brundyn + Gallery in Cape Town

Recently graduated Chris van Eeden had his first solo exhibition at the Brundyn + Gallery in Cape Town. In his first review for ArtThrob Mitchell Messina unpacks van Eeden’s process and discusses the narrative directions that piling one object on top of another can take and how this relates to the abstract paintings that accompany van Eeden’s installations. With this Messina brings a new and refreshing reading to the current trend of abstraction.

Book review of Brett Murray published by Jacana 2014

Our ex-editor, Sean O’Toole, penned us a review of the recently published book on Brett Murray called Brett Murray. Murray was at the centre of one of the biggest controversies in recent South African history. The Spear (a painting of President Jacob Zuma caught in an XYZ moment) and the controversy that surrounded its exhibition at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg was perhaps one of the few post-apartheid moments where, stoked by some members of the governing party, racial hatred seemed at the point of boiling over. Although not specifically about the painting nor the troubles that surrounded it, the book does not diminish its importance within the life of Murray and his art. Scrupulously objective, O’Toole discusses both his admiration for the artist and the book’s contributors as well as some of the important issues that weren’t covered.

Sarah Biggs and Kirsten Lilford at Salon 91 in Cape Town

Kirsten Lilford and Sarah Biggs are two young artists who have bucked the trend of abstract painting. Both have some distinctive similarities in that their interests lie in figures within particular settings. As another new reviewer to ArtThrob, Alice Gauntlet, suggests, both painters have the disarming ability to create an uncanny distance between their visual source material and the painted surface.

Director General of Department of Arts and Culture Suspended

In a country where the exposure of political scandal without any resultant accountability is as commonplace as the exposure of genitalia is in the art world, it was with some surprise this month that we saw the suspension of the Director General of the Department of Arts and Culture. Suspended as a result of the department receiving a qualified audit from the Auditor General, it is perhaps the first admission from the Department that, since the scandal broke surrounding ArtThrob’s discovery of faked invoices in the 2011 Venice Biennale audit, all was in fact not well.

Mikhael Subotzky at the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town

Mikhael Subotzky shot to fame with his final year exhibition Die Vier Hoeke, which was an exposition of the prisoners of the infamous Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. Subotzky is perhaps now a little more than just a photographer and in his latest exhibition Show ‘n Tell, as Chad Rossouw explains – he is now focusing on the internal workings of medium. As Rossouw goes on to argue it is a brave move for an established photographer with such an iconic style to move away from what he is so well known for. There are ‘birth pangs’ in this new work whose developed and matured features are perhaps are still uncertain. 

See here for more ArtThrob news, reviews and features from South Africa

Online exclusive first published 3 November 2014.