Posts Tagged ‘Pliny the Elder

20
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 1

Exhibition dates: 24th October 2015 – 14th February 2016

 

I was lucky enough to be up in Sydney to review the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales… and the media preview for The Greats was on. What an unexpected bonus!

This is part 1 of a monster 2 part posting on the exhibition which, in all honesty, is a bit of a hotchpotch of a blockbuster. But my god, what a hotchpotch it is.

Highlights in part 1 of the posting include:

  • The vibrancy and folds of the pink dress of the Virgin as it flows down and under the Christ child in Botticelli’s The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child, c. 1485
  • The stillness and intensity, colouration of the figures in Johannes Vermeer’s Christ in the house of Martha and Mary, c. 1654-55
  • The glorious “atmosphere”, light and colour in Jan Lievens’ Young man in yellow c. 1630-31, one of the unexpected highlights of the exhibition
  • The intensity of the painting, the precision and care in Diego Velazquez’s An old woman cooking eggs 1618. Now that is really looking at the world
  • And the glorious frames of all these works. I do like a good frame!

Marcus

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Many thankx to the AGNSW for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Entrance to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Entrance to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

 

Installation photographs of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90-1576) Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene) c. 1520-25
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

 

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90-1576)
Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)
c. 1520-25
Oil on canvas
74 x 56.2 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

Titian was the most celebrated Venetian painter of his time. His wealthy and learned patrons spanned across Europe. Well-versed in classical art and literature, including the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, they fuelled a strong demand for paintings like Venus rising from the sea c. 1520-25. According to legend, Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, was born fully grown from the sea. She was then carried to land upon a scallop shell, blown by the zephyr winds.

In Venus rising from the sea, Titian has painted the goddess as a beautiful and voluptuous woman, emerging from the sea and wringing out her wet hair, with a miniature version of her scallop shell floating nearby. Her long auburn locks, milky skin and blushing cheeks are sensuous and tactile, suggesting her seductive powers as the goddess of love. Venus’s gracious, twisting pose recalls classical statues of the goddess. Titian rarely made preparatory drawings for his paintings, preferring to work straight onto the canvas, applying subtle gradations of colour in soft, feathery brushstrokes. He also used live models to pose for his figures, which was uncommon in the early 1500s. This lends the painting its great liveliness and sensuality – qualities that have made Titian justly famous.

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510)
The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (‘The Wemyss Madonna’)
c. 1485
Tempera, oil and gold on canvas
122 x 80.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485 (detail)

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485 (detail)

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510)
The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (‘The Wemyss Madonna’) (detail)
c. 1485
Tempera, oil and gold on canvas
122 x 80.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Painted by one of the most outstanding artists of the Italian Renaissance, The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child c. 1485 is the earliest work in the exhibition. It has not left the United Kingdom since 1846 and The Greats presents the first time in almost three decades that any painting by Botticelli has been exhibited in Sydney. In this devotional painting, the Virgin Mary kneels silently and prays before her son, the infant Jesus Christ, in a rose-filled garden. Her gown and cloak spill onto the ground to provide a pillow for the child, who is nestled among the flowers, asleep. Its simple composition, focusing on just the two figures, invites quiet contemplation.

Like many Renaissance paintings, the picture is rich in symbolism. The enclosed garden is a reference to the purity of the Virgin, who was often called ‘a rose without thorns’. Some symbols are more ominous. The sleeping child with his pallid complexion is presumably a reference to Christ’s eventual death. The red strawberry plant in the lower right corner symbolises the blood he will shed on the cross. Technically the painting is unusual for the Florentine artist: it is quite small and has been painted on canvas rather than wooden panel. This suggests it was intended for a private home or convent, rather than a public space like a church.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at left, Domenichino’s The adoration of the shepherds c. 1606-08
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italy, 1581-1641) 'The adoration of the shepherds' c. 1606-08

 

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italy, 1581-1641)
The adoration of the shepherds
c. 1606-08
Oil on canvas
143 x 115 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1971
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at centre, Sir Anthony van Dyck’s Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom c. 1620-21
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' c. 1620-21

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' c. 1620-21

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641)
Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom
c. 1620-21
Oil on canvas
230 x 163.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1830; transferred, 1859
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Anthony van Dyck, the most successful pupil of Peter Paul Rubens, is regarded as one of the masters of the Flemish baroque. Painted just before Van Dyck left Flanders for Italy in 1621, this dramatic composition features Saint Sebastian, a Roman officer who converted secretly to Christianity. When Sebastian’s faith was discovered, he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Usually shown at the moment of his martyrdom, with the arrows piercing his body, here Sebastian has been portrayed prior to his execution. His twisting body and his upward-turned face seem to anticipate the punishment that is to come.

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' (detail) c. 1620-21

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' (detail) c. 1620-21

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641)
Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom (details)
c. 1620-21
Oil on canvas
230 x 163.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1830; transferred, 1859
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland is one of the most significant collections of European old master paintings ever seen in Australia and is presented as part of the Sydney International Art Series 2015-2016. Spanning a period of 400 years from the Renaissance to Impressionism, The Greats includes works by the most outstanding names in Western art, including Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, Poussin, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Monet, Degas, Gauguin, and Cézanne.

This richly presented exhibition brings together over 70 of the greatest paintings and drawings from the National Galleries of Scotland, based in the beautiful capital city of Edinburgh. The Greats marks the first time these artworks have been exhibited in Australia, with the exception of Rembrandt’s A woman in bed (c. 1647) and Seurat’s La Luzerne, Saint-Denis (1884-85). Botticelli’s Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (c. 1485) has not been exhibited outside of the United Kingdom in 169 years.

Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Michael Brand, said it is a tremendous privilege to host such a fine collection of masterpieces in Sydney and that the Art Gallery of NSW is extremely grateful to the National Galleries of Scotland for their generosity and collegiality. “The Greats is a statement of unequivocal artistic excellence – each piece in this exhibition is of extraordinary quality. We are excited to provide Australian audiences the rare opportunity to come face to face with such unique and masterful artworks,” Brand said.

“Approaching the entrance to the Art Gallery of NSW, we are reminded of Sydney’s historic aspirations for viewing the creations of European old masters, with names such as Titian, Rembrandt and Botticelli adorning the Gallery’s sandstone facade. It is with great pleasure that we now welcome incredible works by these artists to our interior walls, into a sublime exhibition space that promises a moving and absorbing experience for all visitors,” Brand added.

Director of the Scottish National Gallery, Michael Clarke, said, “We are delighted to present some of the finest masterworks from the National Galleries of Scotland at the distinguished Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Gallery provides a marvellous venue for our exhibition, which includes a selection of paintings that have recently toured to art institutions in America, including the de Young in San Francisco and the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth.”

Visitors to The Greats will experience the Scottish National Gallery’s famous interior with part of the exhibition space inspired by the Edinburgh gallery’s octagonal rooms with fabric walls of a sumptuous red – the traditional colour on which to hang old master paintings. This installation will serve to accentuate the grandeur of the paintings and foster an intimate experience with each of the artworks. A variety of associated public and education programs are on offer to visitors of all ages. Serving to engage the widest possible audience, the Gallery will host daily guided tours, lecture series, late night programs and a suite of other events designed to facilitate meaningful interactions with the artworks featured in The Greats.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with Frans Hals’ Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck c. 1627 (left) and Johannes Vermeer’s Christ in the house of Martha and Mary c. 1654-55 (centre)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666) 'Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck' c. 1627

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666)
Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck
c. 1627
Oil on panel
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by John J Moubray of Naemoor, 1916
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

With his loose and seemingly spontaneous brushwork, combined with an exceptional ability to capture a sitter’s likeness and expression, Hals inspired generations of artists, from Jean-Honoré Fragonard to Édouard Manet. This portrait probably shows Pieter Verdonck, a Haarlem Mennonite, who was said to be aggressive and argumentative. In a contemporary engraving after the painting, an inscription reads: ‘This is Verdonck, that outspoken fellow, / whose jawbone attacks everyone.’ The jawbone that he holds is the same weapon used by the biblical hero Samson to kill the Philistines; here, it may refer to Verdonck’s ability to wound his enemies with his cutting words.

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666) 'Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck' c. 1627 (detail)

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666)
Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck
c. 1627
Oil on panel
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by John J Moubray of Naemoor, 1916
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Johannes Vermeer (The Netherlands, 1632-75) 'Christ in the house of Martha and Mary' c. 1654-55

 

Johannes Vermeer (The Netherlands, 1632-75)
Christ in the house of Martha and Mary
c. 1654-55
Oil on canvas
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by the Sons of WA Coats in memory of their father, 1927
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The fame of Vermeer, now one of the best-known painter of the Dutch Golden Age, rests on just 36 paintings known to survive today. This canvas is music larger than his usual compositions and is the only one that illustrates a biblical subject. In spite of its uniqueness, the painting is replete with the quiet human interactions for which the artist is known. The scene depicts the story from Luke 10:38-42, in which Martha objected to her sister Mary listening to Jesus while she herself was busy serving. Given the substantial size of the canvas, it is likely that the painting was a specific commission, possibly intended for a Catholic church.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at centre, Rembrandt van Rijn’s A woman in bed 164(7?) and at right, Jan Lievens’ Young man in yellow c. 1630-31
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' 164(7?)

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' 164(7?)

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69)
A woman in bed
164(7?)
Oil on canvas (formerly laid down on panel)
81.4 x 67.9 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Presented by William McEwan, 1892
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The model for this painting is still unidentified. She might be any one of the three main women in Rembrandt’s life: his wife, Saskia; his son’s nursemaid, Geertje Dircx; or his family’s servant girl, Hendrickje Stoffels. Though intimate in its appearance, the painting is probably not a portrait, as a bed would have been an inappropriate setting for a respectable female model. The figure most likely represents the biblical character Sarah from the Old Testament Book of Tobit. Rembrandt shows her watching anxiously as her bridegroom Tobias chases away the devil that had murdered each of her previous seven husbands on their wedding nights.

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' (detail) 164(7?)

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69)
A woman in bed (detail)
164(7?)
Oil on canvas (formerly laid down on panel)
81.4 x 67.9 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Presented by William McEwan, 1892
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74) 'Young man in yellow' c. 1630-31

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74)
Young man in yellow
c. 1630-31
Oil on canvas
112 x 99 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1922
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74) 'Young man in yellow' (detail) c. 1630-31

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74)
Young man in yellow (detail)
c. 1630-31
Oil on canvas
112 x 99 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1922
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Jan Lievens and Rembrandt van Rijn were two young artists working in Leiden in the years around 1630. They worked separately, though they engaged in artistic competition and exchange, as this painting suggests. The dramatically lit depiction of a young man posing as a commander with his gorget and baton is not a true portrait, but a tronie – a Dutch term for a painting that features an exaggerated facial expression or a figure in an almost theatrical costume. Both Lievens and Rembrandt experimented with tronies early in their careers, often introducing members of their families or their own likenesses.

 

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88) 'Venus, Cupid and Mars' 1580s

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88) 'Venus, Cupid and Mars' 1580s

 

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88)
Venus, Cupid and Mars
1580s
Oil on canvas
165.2 x 126.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1859; transferred, 1868
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Veronese was famous in his lifetime as a master of rich colour. His paintings often show exotic figures, sumptuous fabrics and such seemingly incidental details as the spaniel pictured at lower right. The depiction of a dog, a symbol of marital fidelity, was intended as a clever and ironic commentary on the adulterous relationship between Venus, the goddess of love and wife of Vulcan, and Mars, the god of war. This canvas was presented as a diplomatic gift on behalf of the Spanish Crown to King Charles 1 of Britain during his trip to Spain in 1623.

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614) 'An allegory (Fábula)' c. 1585-95

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614)
An allegory (Fábula)
c. 1585-95
Oil on canvas
67.3 x 88.6 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax (hybrid arrangement), with additional funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, and Gallery funds, 1989
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This enigmatic composition has been described as an allegory to fable (fábula), though its specific meaning has long been debated. One possibility is that it is a recreation of a lost painting of a boy blowing a fire, made by the ancient artist Antiphilus of Alexandria and known from a text written in the 1st century by Pliny the Elder. The presence of the monkey evokes the classical notion of art as the ape of nature, while the man, whose toothy grin and red and yellow attire identify him as a jester, may allude to the ultimate folly of the painter’s aim of reproducing the visible world – or, perhaps, of imitating the ancients.

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614) 'An allegory (Fábula)' (detail) c. 1585-95

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614)
An allegory (Fábula) (detail)
c. 1585-95
Oil on canvas
67.3 x 88.6 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax (hybrid arrangement), with additional funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, and Gallery funds, 1989
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

Diego Velazquez (Spain, 1599-1660) 'An old woman cooking eggs' 1618

 

Diego Velazquez (Spain, 1599-1660)
An old woman cooking eggs
1618
Oil on canvas
100.5 x 119.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Art Fund and a special Treasury Grant, 1955
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

This simple scene of everyday life in seventeenth-century Spain displays the technical sophistication of painter Diego Velázquez. No Velázquez of comparable importance has been seen before in Australia. And indeed, the painting marks the Scottish National Gallery’s most expensive purchase to date. Painted in 1618 when the artist was just eighteen or nineteen years old, the work depicts an old woman cooking eggs in a red-glazed pot, while a young boy holds a flask of wine and a melon. The subjects were real people, perhaps family members or neighbours, and both reappear in other paintings by the artist. It is likely that Velázquez painted the objects and figures directly from life.

The scene is painted with utmost care and detail. His depiction of light and the textures of objects is meticulous – from the soft folds of the woman’s headscarf, to the thick glaze on a ceramic pot, to the warm sheen of light hitting brass or copper. Unlike other portrayals of everyday people and humble genre scenes, this portrait presents its subjects with dignity, without mockery or censure. The extraordinary skill of Velázquez was considered to be unprecedented in Spain at the time. Establishing himself as much-respected painter in his native Seville, the artist moved to the royal courts of Madrid in 1623 and was soon appointed painter to King Philip IV.

 

Gerrit Dou (The Netherlands, 1613-75) 'An interior with a young viola player' 1637

 

Gerrit Dou (The Netherlands, 1613-75)
An interior with a young viola player
1637
Oil on oak panel
31.1 x 23.7 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the National Heritage Memorial Fund 1984
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Dou was the father of the so-called fijnschilders (fine painters), the Lieden school celebrated for its commitment to detailed illusionism and refined technique. This painting is rendered so precisely that it is possible to identify the open book, shown at centre, as De Friesche Lust-Hof (The Frisian pleasure garden), a popular Dutch songbook first published in 1621. The pages are turned to a comic number about the joys and sorrows of love, accompanied by an image of two lovers under a tree in a landscape. For the informed viewer, this depiction adds unexpected irony to the tranquil, melancholic portrayal of the young musician.

 

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
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Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

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24
Jun
14

Exhibition: ‘Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa’ at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Exhibition dates: 21st February – 29th June 2014

Exhibition artists

Public Intimacy presents

  • Photography by Ian Berry, Ernest Cole, David Goldblatt, Terry Kurgan, Sabelo Mlangeni, Santu Mofokeng, Billy Monk, Zanele Muholi, Lindeka Qampi, Jo Ractliffe, and Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
  • Video works by William Kentridge, Donna Kukama, Anthea Moys, and Berni Searle
  • Painting and sculpture by Nicholas Hlobo and Penny Siopis
  • Puppetry by Handspring Puppet Company
  • Publications, prints, graphic works, and public interventions by Chimurenga, ijusi (Garth Walker), Anton Kannemeyer, and Cameron Platter
  • Performances by Athi-Patra Ruga, Kemang Wa Lehulere, and Sello Pesa and Vaughn Sadie with Ntsoana Contemporary Dance Theatre

 

Continuing my fascination with South African art and photography, here is another exhilarating collection of work from an exhibition jointly arranged between SFMOMA and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. This art has so much joy, life, movement and “colour”. I particularly like The Future White Women of Azania series by Athi-Patra Ruga, who presented his work at the 55th Venice Biennale in the African pavilion. Images of his incredible tapestries can be found on the Whatiftheworld website, and photographs of his installation at the WhatIfTheWorld Gallery can be found on the Empty Kingdom website. Thank god not another rehashed colonial image, even though he is working with the tropes of myth and the history of Africa as a contemporary response to the post-apartheid era.

Marcus

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Many thankx to SFMOMA and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for allowing me to publish the installation photographs in the posting. Most of the other photographs were gathered from the internet. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

“Disrupting expected images of South Africa, the 25 contemporary artists and collectives featured in Public Intimacy eloquently explore the poetics and politics of the everyday. This collaboration with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts presents pictures from SFMOMA’s collection of South African photography alongside works in a broad range of media, including video, painting, sculpture, performance, and publications – most made in the last five years, and many on view for the first time on the West Coast. Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa, Public Intimacy reveals the nuances of human interaction in a country still undergoing significant change, vividly showing public life there in a more complex light.”

Text from the SFMOMA website

 

 

Santu Mofokeng. 'Opening Song, Hand Clapping and Bells' 1986

 

Santu Mofokeng
Opening Song, Hand Clapping and Bells
1986
From the series Train Church
Pigment print
9 13/16 x 13 3/4 in. (25 x 35 cm)
© Santu Mofokeng

 

Santu Mofokeng. 'Leading in Song, Johannesburg - Soweto Line' 1986

 

Santu Mofokeng
Leading in Song, Johannesburg – Soweto Line
1986
From the series Train Church
Pigment print
9 13/16 x 13 3/4 in. (25 x 35 cm)
© Santu Mofokeng

 

Santu Mofokeng. 'Hands in Worship, Johannesburg - Soweto Line' 1986

 

Santu Mofokeng
Hands in Worship, Johannesburg – Soweto Line
1986
From the series Train Church
Pigment print
9 13/16 x 13 3/4 in. (25 x 35 cm)
© Santu Mofokeng

 

Santu Mofokeng. 'Supplication, Johannesburg - Soweto Line' 1986

 

Santu Mofokeng
Supplication, Johannesburg – Soweto Line
1986
From the series Train Church
Pigment print
9 13/16 x 13 3/4 in. (25 x 35 cm)
© Santu Mofokeng

 

Ian Berry. 'Guests at a 'moffie'drag party' Cape Town, South Africa, 1960

 

Ian Berry
Guests at a ‘moffie’drag party
Cape Town, South Africa, 1960
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 30 September 1967' 1967, printed 2011

 

Billy Monk
The Catacombs, 30 September 1967
1967, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
10 1/16 x 14 15/16 in. (25.56 x 37.94 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 5 February 1968' 1968, printed 2011

 

Billy Monk
The Catacombs, 5 February 1968
1968, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
11 x 16 in. (27.94 x 40.64 cm)
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Nomonde Mbusi, Berea, Johannesburg' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi
Nomonde Mbusi, Berea, Johannesburg
2007
From the Faces and Phases series
Gelatin silver print
23 13/16 in. x 34 1/16 in. (60.5 cm x 86.5 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi, born 1972

Muholi’s work addresses the reality of what it is to be LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) in South Africa. She identifies herself as a visual activist, dealing with issues of violation, violence and prejudice that she and her community face, despite South Africa’s progressive constitution.

In Faces and Phases, she sets out to give visibility to black lesbians and to celebrate the distinctiveness of individuals through the traditional genre of portraiture. The portraits are taken outdoors with a hand-held camera to retain spontaneity and often shown in a grid to highlight difference and diversity. In the series Beulahs, she shows young gay men, wearing Zulu beads and other accessories usually worn by women, who invert normative gender codes in both costume and pose. At the same time her photographs evoke tourist postcards and recycled stereotypes of Africans and recall traditional anthropological and ethnographic iconography.

Faces and Phases, is a group of black and white portraits that I have been working on from 2006 until now – it has become a lifetime project. The project is about me, the community that I’m part of. I was born in the township: I grew up in that space. Most of us grew up in a household where heterosexuality was the norm. When you grow up, you think that the only thing that you have to become as a maturing girl or woman is to be with a man; you have to have children, and also you need to have lobola or “bride price” paid for you. For young men, the expectation for them is to be with women and have wives and procreate: that’s the kind of space which most of us come from. We are seen as something else by society – we are seen as deviants. We’re not going to be here forever, and I wanted to make sure that we leave a history that is tangible to people who come after us.’

Zanele Muholi, interviewed by Tamar Garb, South Africa, 2010.
Text from the V & A website

 

David Goldblatt. 'Woman smoking, Fordsburg, Johannesburg' 1975

 

David Goldblatt
Woman smoking, Fordsburg, Johannesburg
1975
Pigment inkjet print
23 5/8 in. x 29 1/2 in. (60 cm x 75 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© David Goldblatt.

 

 

Jointly organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa brings together 25 artists and collectives who disrupt expected images of a country known through its apartheid history. The exhibition features an arc of artists who look to the intimate encounters of daily life to express the poetics and politics of the “ordinary act,” with work primarily from the last five years as well as photographic works that figure as historical precedents. On view at YBCA February 21 through June 29, 2014, Public Intimacy presents more than 200 works in a wide range of mediums, many of them making U.S. or West Coast debuts.

The exhibition joins SFMOMA’s important and growing collection of South African photography with YBCA’s multidisciplinary purview and continued exploration of the Global South. Significant documentary photography is paired with new photographs and work in other mediums, including video, painting, sculpture, performance, and publications, to reveal the multifaceted nuances of everyday life in a country still undergoing significant change. Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa, Public Intimacy looks at the way artists imagine present and future possibilities in South Africa. A new orientation emerges through close-up views of street interactions, portraiture, fashion and costume, unfamiliar public actions, and human imprints on the landscape.

The exhibition’s three curators – Betti-Sue Hertz, director of visual arts at YBCA; Frank Smigiel, associate curator of public programs at SFMOMA; and Dominic Willsdon, Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Programs at SFMOMA – developed the show after visits to South Africa, where they met with artists, curators, and critics. The exhibition – and a companion publication to be published in fall 2014 – grew out of this research.

“Although South Africa’s political history remains vital to these artists and is important for understanding their work, Public Intimacy offers a more subtle view of the country through personal moments,” said Hertz. “It goes against expectations in order to reveal the smaller gestures and illuminate how social context has affected artists and how they work.”

“The familiar image of contemporary South Africa as a place of turmoil is, of course, not the whole story,” added Willsdon. “The art in this exhibition restages how those violent incidents fit in the broader realm of human interactions – a way of showing public life there in a more complex light.”

“Another central aspect of the exhibition is live performance,” said Smigiel. “Three major live works will unfold both in and outside the gallery context, offering a way to situate and reframe San Francisco through the lens of what artists are producing in South Africa.”

Public Intimacy is part of SFMOMA’s collaborative museum exhibitions and extensive off-site programming taking place while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction through early 2016. As neighbors across Third Street in San Francisco, YBCA and SFMOMA have partnered in the past on various performance and exhibition projects, but Public Intimacy represents the deepest collaboration of shared interests to date between the two institutions. It also brings together SFMOMA’s approach to curating live art and YBCA’s multidisciplinary interest in exhibitions, social practice, and performances.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

 

Installation views of the exhibition Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco with, in the last photo, Nicholas Hlobo, Umphanda ongazaliyo (installation view), 2008; rubber, ribbon, zips, steel, wood, plaster; ICA Boston; © Nicholas Hlobo; photo: John Kennar.

 

 

Exhibition highlights

While the exhibition explores new approaches to daily life in post-apartheid South Africa, it also makes visible the continued commitment of artists to activism and contemporary politics. Beginning with photographs from the late 1950s and after, the exhibition includes vital moments in the country’s documentary photography – from Ian Berry’s inside look at an underground drag ball to Billy Monk’s raucous nightclub photos – each capturing a moment of celebration within different social strata of South African society. Ernest Cole’s photographs of miners’ hostels and bars and Santu Mofokeng’s stirring photographs of mobile churches on commuter trains reveal everyday moments both tender and harsh.

David Goldblatt’s photographs depict the human landscape in apartheid and after, providing the genesis of the idea of “public intimacy.” Over decades of photographs in urban, suburban, and rural locations, Goldblatt has chronicled the changing nature of interpersonal engagement in South Africa. At the same time, they provide a historical backdrop and visual precedent for other artists in the exhibition, including Zanele Muholi and Sabelo Mlangeni.

Muholi has won several awards for her powerful photographic portraits as well as her activism on behalf of black lesbians in South Africa. Although best known for her photographs – in particular her Faces and Phases series – Muholi continuously experiments with an expanded practice including documentary film, beadwork, text, and her social-action organization Inkanyiso, which gives visibility to conditions facing lesbians of color in her country. “Sexual politics has been looked at less than racial politics in South Africa, but in many ways, the two have always been intertwined,” said Willsdon.

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse bring another perspective to the upheavals of life in the city of Johannesburg with works from their Ponte City (2008-10) series, comprised of photographs, video, and a publication offering various views of this centrally located and iconic 54-story building. The works illustrate the struggles facing many native and immigrant South Africans in the years following the dissolution of apartheid, including stalled economic growth and social opportunities.

In contrast to the daily realities pictured in photographic works in the exhibition, Athi-Patra Ruga’s ongoing performance series The Future White Women of Azania (2010-present) features fantastical characters – usually played by the artist – whose upper bodies sprout colorful balloons while their lower bodies pose or process in stockings and high heels. Ruga’s Azania is a changing utopia, and Smigiel notes the shift: “The balloons are filled with liquid, and as the figure moves through the streets, they start popping, so the character dissolves and reveals a performer, and the liquid spills out and into a rather sloppy line drawing.” A new iteration of the series, The Elder of Azania, will premiere in the YBCA Forum during the exhibition’s opening weekend.

Chimurenga, an editorial collective working at the intersection of pan-African culture, art, and politics produces publications, events, and installations. Founded in 2002 by Ntone Edjabe, the collective has created the Chimurenga Library, an online archiving project that profiles independent pan-African paper periodicals from around the world. Expanding upon this concept, their presence in Public Intimacy will have two elements: a text and media resource space in YBCA’s galleries and an intervention at the San Francisco Public Library main branch that will explore the history of pan-African culture in the Bay Area, scheduled to open in late May.

Providing one of the most personally vulnerable moments in the exhibition, Penny Siopis’s series of 90 small paintings on enamel, Shame (2002), provokes a visceral reaction. With red paint reminiscent of blood and bruises, Siopis mixes color and text in an attempt to convey emotion rather than narrative. While she is interested in the guilt and embarrassment most frequently associated with shame, she also looks at the possibility for empathy that emerges from traumatic experiences.

In all of these works, explains Hertz, “We are looking at how art and activism align, but we’re also interested in how politics is embedded in less obviously political practices, such as Sabelo Mlangeni’s photographs of mining workers’ hostels, Penny Siopis’s powerful painting series about human vulnerability, or Nicholas Hlobo’s large-scale, organically shaped sculptures made primarily of rubber.”

Text from the SFMOMA website

 

Sabelo Mlangeni. 'Couple Bheki and Sipho' 2009

 

Sabelo Mlangeni
Couple Bheki and Sipho
2009
From the series Country Girls
Gelatin silver print
40 x 30 cm
Courtesy the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Sabelo Mlangeni

 

 

Figures & Fictions: Sabelo Mlangeni from Victoria and Albert Museum on Vimeo.

 

Anton Kannemeyer. 'D is for dancing ministers' 2006

 

Anton Kannemeyer
D is for dancing ministers
2006
From the series Alphabet of Democracy
Lithograph on Chine Collé
22 1/16 x 24 in. (56 x 61 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Anton Kannemeyer

 

Terry Kurgan. 'Hotel Yeoville' 2012

 

Terry Kurgan
Hotel Yeoville
2012
Digital print on bamboo hahnemulle paper
Courtesy the artist
© Terry Kurgan

 

Penny Siopis. 'Untitled' from the series 'Shame' 2002

 

Penny Siopis
Untitled from the series Shame
2002
Paint on enamel
© Penny Siopis

 

Athi-Patra Ruga. 'The Future White Women of Azania' 2012

 

Athi-Patra Ruga
The Future White Women of Azania
2012
Performed as part of Performa Obscura in collaboration with Mikhael Subotzky
Commissioned for the exhibition Making Way, Grahamstown, South Africa
Photo: Ruth Simbao, courtesy Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD/GALLERY

 

Athi-Patra Ruga. 'The Future White Women of Azania' 2012

 

Athi-Patra Ruga
The Future White Women of Azania
2012
Performed as part of Performa Obscura in collaboration with Mikhael Subotzky
Commissioned for the exhibition Making Way, Grahamstown, South Africa
Photo: Ruth Simbao, courtesy Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD/GALLERY

 

Athi-Patra Ruga. 'The Night of the Long Knives I' 2013



 

Athi-Patra Ruga
The Night of the Long Knives I
2013


Archival inkjet Print on Photorag Baryta
202 x 157 cm

 

“The Future White Woman of Azania is an ongoing series of performances first conceived in 2010 and evolving to engage new definitions of nationhood in relation to the autonomous body. In the enactment of the site-specific work commissioned for the 55th Venice Biennale, the performance takes the form of an absurdist funerary procession. The participants are the ABODADE – the sisterhood order of Azania and the central protagonist – The Future White Woman.

“Azania, as a geographic location, is first described in 1stCentury Greek records of navigation and trade, The Peryplus of the Erythrean Sea and is thought to refer to a portion of the East and Southern African coast. The word Azania itself is thought to have been derived from an Arabic word referring to the ‘dark-skinned inhabitants of Africa.’

Azania is then eulogised in the black consciousness movement as a pre-colonial utopian black homeland – this Promised Land, referenced in struggle songs, political sermons and African Nationalist speeches. In Cold War pop culture, Marvel Comics used Azania as a fictional backdrop to a Liberation story that bares a close resemblance to the situation that was Apartheid in Old South Africa… so it is at once a mythical and faintly factual place/state that this performance unfolds… Who are the Azanians for what it’s worth? It is in this liminal state that the performance unfolds…”

Seeking to radically reimage the potential of Azania and its inhabitants, the performance questions the mythical place that we mourn for and asks who its future inhabitants may be. Using the “Nation-Finding language of pomp and procession,” Ruga proposes a bold and iconoclastic break with the past Utopian promise of the elders and instead presents us with a new potential and hybridity.”

Text from the Athi-Patra Ruga blog

 

Athi-Patra Ruga. 'Uzuko' 2013


 

Athi-Patra Ruga
Uzuko
2013
Wool, thread and artificial flowers on tapestry canvas
200 x 180 cm

 

 

“Athi-Patra Ruga is one of a handful of artists, working in South Africa today, who has adopted the tropes of myth as a contemporary response to the post-apartheid era. Ruga has always worked with creating alternative identities that sublimate marginalized experience into something strangely identifiable.

In The Future White Women of Azania he is turning his attention to an idea intimately linked to the apartheid era’s fiction of Azania – a Southern African decolonialised arcadia. It is a myth that perhaps seems almost less attainable now than when the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) appropriated the name in 1965 as the signifier of an ideal future South Africa – then at least was a time to dream more optimistically largely because the idea seemed so infinitely remote.

But Ruga, in his imaginings of Azania, has stuck closer to the original myth, situating it in Eastern Africa as the Roman, Pliny the Elder, did in the first written record of the name. Here Ruga in his map The Lands of Azania (2014-2094) has created lands suggestive of sin, of decadence and current politics. Countries named Palestine, Sodom, Kuntistan, Zwartheid and Nunubia are lands that reference pre-colonial, colonial and biblical regions with all their negative and politically disquieting associations. However, in what seems like something of a response to the ‘politically’ embroidered maps of the Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti, Ruga infers that the politicization of words are in a sense prior to the constructed ideology of the nation state.

What is more Azania is a region of tropical chromatic colours, which is populated with characters whose identities are in a state of transformation. At the centre of the panoply of these figures stands The Future White Woman whose racial metamorphosis, amongst a cocoon of multi-coloured balloons, suggests something disturbing, something that questions the processes of a problematic cultural assimilation. And it is here that the veracity of the myth of a future arcadia is being disputed if not entirely rejected.

To be sure, unlike Barthes’ suggestion in his essay ‘Myth Today’, Ruga is not creating myth in an act that depoliticizes, simplifying form in order to perpetuate the idea of an erroneous future ‘good society’. Instead, placing himself in amongst the characters in a lavish self portrait Ruga imagines himself into the space of the clown or jester (much like the Rococo painter Watteau did in his painting ‘Giles’), into the space of interpreter as well as a cultural product of the forces outside of his own control.

Ruga’s Azania is a world of confusing transformations whose references are Rococo and its more modern derivative Pop. But whatever future this myth is foreshadowing, with its wealth, its tropical backdrop, its complicated and confusing identities, it is not a place of peaceful harmony – or at least not one that is easily recognizable. As Ruga adumbrated at a recent studio visit, his generation’s artistic approach of creating myths or alternative realities is in some ways an attempt to situate the traumas of the last 200 years in a place of detachment. That is to say at a farsighted distance where their wounds can be contemplated outside of the usual personalized grief and subjective defensiveness.”

Statement from WHATIFTHEWORLD.com on the Empty Kingdom website

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Ponte City from Yeoville Ridge' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Ponte City from Yeoville Ridge
2008
Lightjet chromogenic print
Courtesy the artists and Goodman Gallery
© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Ponte City, Johannesburg' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Ponte City, Johannesburg
2008
Lightjet chromogenic print
Courtesy the artists and Goodman Gallery
© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Ponte City, Johannesburg' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Ponte City, Johannesburg
2008
Lightjet chromogenic print
Courtesy the artists and Goodman Gallery
© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Cleaning the Core, Ponte City, Johannesburg' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Cleaning the Core, Ponte City, Johannesburg
2008
Lightjet chromogenic print
49 7/16 x 59 1/16 in. (125.5 x 150 cm)
Courtesy the artists and Goodman Gallery
© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Untitled I, Ponte City, Johannesburg' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Untitled I, Ponte City, Johannesburg
2008
Lightjet chromogenic print
Courtesy the artists and Goodman Gallery
© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

 

Originally intended as a nuclear point in the upwardly mobile social cartography of Johannesburg’s Hillbrow, the 173 meter-high cylindrical apartment building Ponte City became an urban legend, and an essential part of visual renderings of the city. It was the conflicted spectacle of Ponte City that drew South African photographer, Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse, a British artist, to look more closely in rather than at the tower.

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Lift Portrait 2, Ponte City, Johannesburg (0328)' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Lift Portrait 2, Ponte City, Johannesburg (0328)
2008
C-print mounted on Dibond
124 cm x 151.5 cm

 

 

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

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Thursday -€“ Saturday noon – 8.00 pm
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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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