The recent opening of Anton Kannemeyer’s untitled exhibition at Spier Wine Estate near Stellenbosch coincided with the official launch of the Beam Gallery at this venue. It is ironic that the a gallery that was established to “enable new ideas and to incubate and nurture a place for different voices where art, craft and design can transcend traditional barriers” should choose to launch with an exhibition by such a well-known and established artist.
The Beam Gallery is a new project of the Africa Centre and is also Spier’s attempt at expanding their patronage of the arts to include the visual arts. The gallery is positioned as an open space where art and artists who do not necessarily fit into ‘traditional’ art spaces have an opportunity to showcase themselves, while benefitting 100% from the works sold. It is a space with potential, although quite small and dark, its original wooden beams unable to compensate for its blandness.Spier’s artist of the year 2006/07, Kannemeyer can nonetheless be relied on to ensure affront and scandal in even the dullest of venues. His exhibition included a new body of work, shown alongside familiar older works. Many of the issues typical of Kannemeyer’s work were present: race, politics, fear, stereotyping, and sex. For measure, the artist included his usual dose of penises.The exhibition’s central piece is an evolving 26-part series entitled Alphabet of Democracy, a work that bears out the artist’s sustained exploration of post-apartheid South Africa through his darkly humorous commentary on middle-class whiteness. These mixed media works visualise South Africa’s democracy by making witty, alternatively bittersweet connections between a letter of the alphabet and a South African phenomenon. A is for AIDS, B is for the Bokke, C for complaining, right through to Z, which is for Zuma not Zapiro (who opened the show). Entries taken from his rich visual diary were also on display, as well as favourite quotes from Kannemeyer’s alter-ego, Joe Dog.Kannemeyer’s voice has been loud and clear in the past decade and he and his Bitterkomix partner, Conrad Botes, have inspired numerous artists to similar disrespectful anarchy. It is however doubtful whether younger artists (or viewers such as myself) care much about the sexual repression they did not experience, the patriarchal society they have only heard about in myths, or an ideology that they feel does not concern them. What this country’s new taboos will be only time will tell. Thanks to Kannemeyer (and others), sex and the white South African are no longer necessarily it.