Small versus x-large

From 34 Long Street to Room 14, Graskop, Art South Africa profiles the country’s new (or sometimes just improved) galleries

CAPE TOWN’S GALLERY SCENE IS BUSTLING. KIM GURNEY SPEAKS TO THE PEOPLE DEFINING THE NEW OPTIMISM

A new wave of curators who claim more altruistic ideals than headline profits is adding vibrancy to Cape Town’s contemporary art market. Several new galleries have over the past year entered an increasingly crowded arena. Most of them, however, are targeting young and emerging artists. They argue that viable exhibition platforms are lacking for aspiring creatorsand they aim to fill this gap.

According to photographer Claire Breukel, who co-founded Shot Gallery on Riebeeck Street, there is little accommodation for emerging artists. She says: “If an artist is not commercially viable, they are often not given the opportunity to exhibit.” Formerly a co-curator of the BrettKebble Art Award, Breukel was recently appointed as Director of Exhibitions and Artists Liaison of the ArtCenter/South Florida. She argues that Caffeine coffee shop, Shot’s host venue, is perfect for intimateexhibitions.

“In a place like South Africa, where visual literacy needs strengthening, it is importantto make art — especially photography — accessible,” says Breukel. “The medium transcends language barriers and can be used as an educational tool, instead of being exclusive and only for those who can afford to purchase art from commercial galleries.” Shot runs along non-profit lines. It takes a small commission on sales to cover basic costs and provides publicity, hanging and infrastructure. The exhibitor pays no rental but takes responsibility for he opening reception.

DIRT Contemporary, a newcomer on Kloof Street, shares a similar ethos. This gallery is young and vibrant with an emphasis on cutting-edge contemporary art. Ownership has recently changed hands from Heike Davies to Rory Palmer and Elodie Hainard.

Palmer says the emphasis is on conceptual, contemporary art installations — “interesting shows with a quirky, fun-filled edge”. Glass speech bubbles and painted comic heads comprised a recent exhibition. Palmer adds: “It’s a relatively low-cost gallery for young people. It’s not so much a commercial space or profit-driven.”

Another new gallery keeping emerging artists in mind is Nonjingi on Church Street. In addition to hosting exhibitions, Wajdie Crombie and Enver Kruger have created an Art Fund to help cash-strapped artists pay for materials.

That motivation is something Christopher Till would understand.

Executive Director of the first and second Johannesburg Biennales, Till also previously ran Johannesburg’s now defunct Generator Art Space as an experimental venue to give young artists with little money the chance to show new work. In his spare time, Till, who is currently Director of the Apartheid Museum, runs a new gallery called Generator, on Buitengracht Street. He says it is a commercial space only to the extent that he needs to pay his way.

“I ask a modest percentage of the work sold but it is loosely structured and flexible,” he remarks.

The emphasis at Generator is on collaborative projects and creative enterprises. The newcomers are not all about altruism, however. Two major new players are sophisticated commercial venues, launched for their own compelling but very different reasons.

Andries Loots and Fred de Jager opened 34 Long in November last year to exhibit the cream of South African contemporary artists and top overseas practitioners — one of the ways the gallery will differentiate itself. Included in their portfolio are works by Takashi Murakami and Julian Opie, with recent solo showings of work by Norman Catherine and Tony Meintjes. “There is too much of a similarity between galleries where a few artists show the same kind of thing in different spaces,” Loots says.

For this very experienced duo, with 22 years of art dealing behind them, the strength of the rand was the main impetus. They ran an art investment business for several years through a virtual gallery on the internet. However, with three quarters of their clients based overseas, the strong rand dealt a blow to the export market and they decided to buy back South African works instead. “To import works [now] makes much more sense but we needed space to show them,” Loots says.

The gallery boom has even reached the winelands. A pension fund consortium of businessmen from Holland and Belgium bought Grande Provence estate in Franschhoek and opened an impressive gallery in April this year.

According to Charlie Bronks, international business development spokesperson, the owners are serious about this endeavour. “They want to be supportive of South African artists, providing a local platform showcasing to local and international clients,” states Bronks.

Art consultant Rose Korber is responsible for the selection of works that line the pristine walls. She says location is one distinct advantage for the wine estate, which includes a restaurant.

“In a sense, Cape Town is almost oversubscribed,” says Korber. “So far, we have had a kind of captive market.” The larger question, however, is whether the market can sustain all thesenew players. According to Loots, the market is small but not over-saturated. “If you have a unique product, you will succeed,” he adds.

Kim Gurney is a freelance journalist and WesternCape Editor of ArtThrob

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA’S GILDED METROPOLIS, IS RAPIDLY REGAINING ITS LUSTRE — AND SOME NEW GALLERIES EVERARD READ

Shortly after Mary-Jane Darroll’s arrival from Sotheby’s it was announced that Paul Harris, co-founder of Rand Consolidated Investments (with GT Ferreira) and Executive Director of FirstRand, had acquired a minority stake in the gallery. Cumulatively, the outcome is the repositioning of a pedigreed name in South African art. Speaking at the relaunch of the gallery in February, Harris remarked that art was a “thing of beauty,” and also “… something that didn’t dirty your nails”. Less jokingly, he stated that local art offered “tremendous upswing as an investment … in a reemerging market”. Painting remains the gallery’s chief focus, although it is venturing into photography. Roger Ballen will exhibit September 7 — 20.

Address: 6 Jellicoe Avenue, RosebankTel: (011) 788 4805Email: >

STANDARD BANKFifteen years after Standard Bank opened a gallery adjacent their corporate banking complex in Johannesburg’s inner city, the bank must feel supremely vindicated. Gone is the 1990s culture of fear, replaced, particularly along Main Street, with an active pedestrian culture thatincludes pleasant outdoor cafes. The gallery itself has undergone a facelift, courtesy of architect and art patron Pierre Lombart (with Briget Grosskopff). Known for its impressive retrospective shows, the space is also recognised as one of the city’s few non-commercial public spaces. Look forward to exhibitions by Kathryn Smith and Wim Botha.

Address: Corner Simmonds and Frederick StreetsTel: (011) 636 4231

DRILL HALLLike The Fort on Constitution Hill, this venue redefines a historically troubled space. A former military base, built on the ruins of a ‘native prison’ in 1904, the Drill Hall has over the years been a courtroom (for the 1956 Treason Trials) and a squatter’s enclave — after it was abandoned by the apartheid military. Newly refurbished, at a cost of R10-million, thearts, cultural and heritage programme is managed by the Joubert Park Project.

Address: Plein and Twist Streets, Joubert ParkTel: (011) 333 1112Email: >

MOJA MODERNOpened in August 2004, Moja has an obvious painterly and graphics bias — with a contemporary twist. Looking beyond the well-known names, the gallery holds interesting work by Espoir Kennedy, from Burundi, and Mark Kannemeyer (aka Lorcan White of Bitterkomix).Address: 16 7th Avenue, Parktown North (next toKung Fu Kitchen)Tel: (011) 447 9000Email: >

ROOM 14, GRASKOPI’ve never slept in an art installation before. The thought comes to me as I sit on an orange chair staring at the bed in room 14, the silhouette of artist Andrew Milne neatly embroidered onto the stiff cotton duvet.

“Room 14 is … an installation that is an extension of me and my work method,” reads a leaflet usefully placed next to the bed, just beneath a series of empty files decorating the pencil-grey wall. The statement was written by Milne, a young Pretoria-based artist, and briefly recounts his intervention in room 14, on the first floor of the Graskop Hotel.

Pausing from reading, it strikes me: This place could easily pass as a set from a David Lynch film. It is not an implausible statement, especially if you consider what entrepreneur Harrie Siertsema has achieved in Graskop, a small town located in the heart of Mpumalanga’s logging region.

Trained as an architect, Siertsema moved to Graskop in the early 1990s just as the tourist boom was kicking off. He opened a pancake shop. Business flourished. He opened up some more. Business continued to flourish. He bought a hotel.

In its former life the Graskop Hotel was a dishevelled platteland hotel. Now it is a charming country getaway notable for its odd decorative flourishes. Milne’s room is only one of these.

Room 15 only contains artworks by Claudette Schreuders; work by Pippa Skotnes decorates room 21. Not all the rooms are as audacious as Milne’s, but that is really not the point — each is a loving homage to an artist that Siertsema admires or wishes to nurture.

Aside from two galleries, one with a permanent installation by Jo Ractliffe, the hotel is crammed with artworks, a Willem Boshoff sculpture here, a Titus Matiyane map there. Given all the collected booty, I ask Siertsema why it is that the hotel receives such scant coverage locally?

“The rooms don’t have televisions,” he quips. While most foreign groups passing through see this as commendable, locals find it inexcusable. “When they hear that there is no television, they quickly move along.”

Presumably it is not because they were after video art.

Sean O’Toole

The Graskop Hotel & Gallery of Contemporary ArtCorner Main & Louis Trichardt Streets, GraskopTel: +27 (0)13 767 1244email: >