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Rethinking the Language of Art - The Whitney Biennial 2014 beyond Discourse
The Museum as Marketing Temple - Mike Bouchet & Paul McCarthy at the Portikus, Frankfurt
The Man Who Invented Pop Art - London Celebrates Richard Hamilton
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Washed Geometry: Rebecca Michaelis's Undogmatic Color Field Painting
Dark Metamorphoses - Victor Man Is Artist of the Year 2014
Walk the Line - A visual journey at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle
Shared Visions - The Rise of the Johannesburg Art Scene
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Longing: The Photographic Works of Nicolas Balcazar
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners: Sonja Rentsch´s Imagination Space for the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle

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Shared Visions
The Rise of the Johannesburg Art Scene


Everyone who lives in Johannesburg has a love-hate relationship with the city, says William Kentridge. The art scene there draws its strength from this tension, as Sean O’Toole observes during a stroll through artists’ studios and project rooms.


As a young man growing up in 1970s’ and 1980s’ Johannesburg, William Kentridge explored many career possibilities: he participated in the city’s vibrant theater scene, jobbed in the commercial film industry, worked on producing drawings and prints for exhibitions, and even tried his hand at editorial cartooning. Perplexed by the range of his pursuits, friends jokingly asked when he planned to commit to a single medium. It happened in his early thirties, says Kentridge, when his wife fell pregnant with the first child. Suddenly cast in the role of provider, Kentridge dedicated himself to making art. Drawing on his interest in Russian Constructivism and German Expressionism, he patiently drew, erased, and then redrew countless charcoal studies for a stop-animation film that described the fictional lives of two Johannesburg residents, businessman Soho Eckstein and artist Felix Teitlebaum. When he was done he titled the finished work, a watershed moment in his career, Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris (1989).


CIRCA Gallery in partnership
with Deutsche Bank


The gallery is concerned with exhibiting important contemporary works of art. Musical events and lectures also form part of the activities which take place within its curved walls. The CIRCA building is recognised as one of Johannesburg’s outstanding architectural landmarks of the North Western corner of Rosebank. This area has become South Africa’s preeminent hub for the visual arts. Born out of a love for Johannesburg, the gallery’s sculptural architecture is a celebration of art, architecture and living in this city.


Kentridge (58) continues to live and work in Johannesburg, a sprawling, agitated city of 4.5 million residents founded in 1886 after the discovery of gold. He keeps two studios: one is at Arts on Main, a cultural precinct in the central city, while his more intimate drawing studio is at his Houghton home, a few blocks from Nelson Mandela’s former home —Kentridge’s father, a lawyer, represented Mandela in the 1960s. Kentridge has repeatedly depicted Johannesburg in his work, most recently in his newest film, Other Faces (2011).

Kentridge is not alone in routinely making Johannesburg a key subject of his art. In June of this year, la maison rouge, a Paris-based private art foundation and museum, hosted My Joburg, a city-themed group exhibition focusing on Johannesburg. Spanning four generations of mostly South African artists and encompassing a wide variety of media—from small woodcarvings, photographs and eccentric hand-drawn maps to large sculptural installations and Kentridge's new film—the exhibition offered the most comprehensive survey yet of Johannesburg as both a locale for art-making and source of artistic inspiration.

Some fifty artists were included in My Joburg, among them Moshekwa Langa (38), whose 1995 debut exhibition at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in many ways heralded the improvised and expressionistic sculptural practice of Dineo Seshee Bopape and Nicholas Hlobo, both important young Johannesburg artists. Dividing his time between Amsterdam and Johannesburg, Langa makes work with materials at his immediate disposal. His layered and cryptic assemblages present a density of references and meanings that deny easy decoding. His work is a valuable counterpoint to the considered documentary photography of David Goldblatt, for instance. Goldblatt (82) has emerged as Johannesburg’s key visual archivist. “For me Joburg is like an itch,” says Goldblatt of his unstinting interest in photographing his home city. “Every now and then I have to scratch it. It comes and goes in different parts of the body so I scratch here, I scratch there, but seldom in the same place twice.”

David Koloane, the influential draftsman, printmaker, and painter who in 1977 co-founded the now defunct Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) Gallery, also photographs Johannesburg, albeit to different ends. Born in Johannesburg in 1938, Koloane’s jagged and expressionistic works, many depicting Johannesburg, are partly inspired by his own photographs. Well known for his recurring use of cityscapes and stray dogs (the latter a potent symbol of the role of crime, violence and missing security in the narrative of city life), his work possesses a high degree of subtlety that owes to his consistent use of metaphor and abstraction as a way to address the psychological effects of apartheid on especially the urban poor. Mentored by Bill Ainslie, founder and director of the Johannesburg Art Foundation, where Kentridge also studied, Koloane early on rejected the demands of a parochial white art market on black artists. Rather than produce formally naïve pictures of “carefree,” “happy,” and “musical” black subjects, Koloane worked in an abstracted manner, allowing gestural mark-making as much agency in his work as figural description, which remains a constant in his practice.

Koloane’s Fordsburg studio is a short walk from the Artist Proof Studios (APS) in Newtown. Like Kentridge, Koloane is a regular at this community- based print shop, founded in 1991. Two years ago he contributed a lithograph to a portfolio released by APS at the Joburg Art Fair, an important marketplace founded in 2008. At this year’s fair APS exhibited a striking soft-ground etching by young printmaker Ziyanda Majozi. The print depicted her friend, the lesbian rights activist and photographer Zanele Muholi, whose portrait archive of black lesbians shown at documenta 13 generated significant attention.

Born in Durban but long a resident of Johannesburg, Muholi (41) learned the basics of photography at the Market Photo Workshop. Founded in 1989 by Goldblatt, and based very near APS, the aim of this teaching institution is simple: to make photography accessible to a broader demographic than apartheid-era South Africa once allowed. Aside from Muholi, key graduates of this photography school include Jodi Bieber, whose iconic portrait of Bibi Aisha, a young Afghan woman mutilated by her husband during Taliban rule, was featured on the cover of “Time” magazine in August 2010. Despite the popular uptake of photography by a younger generation, it may be surprising to learn that Johannesburg has no commercial gallery devoted solely to the medium. The city’s patrician elites—there are 23,400 millionaires in Johannesburg, more than Cairo (12,300) and Lagos (9,800) combined—still mostly hanker after paintings depicting empty landscapes and tribal cliché.

Frustrated by the small and conservative local art market, young artists emerging out of the city’s dance studios, art schools, and drama departments are variously working—either alone, but more often than not in collaboration—on thematically charged site-specific performances. Kemang Wa Lehulere (29) is emerging as one of the key artists among this new generation of South African artists. Prolific both in his personal capacity and as a collaborator, Lehulere’s personal practice encompasses drawing, video, performance, and sculptural installation; he uses these media to explore the gaps between biographical narrative and collective history, highlighting the contradictions that occur in the confrontation between amnesia and archive. His recent work addresses notions of erasure through performative gestures that envision the body simultaneously as both an archive in the process of disintegration and a site of writing and performing of future narratives.

Like Kentridge, Lehulere’s art career was prefaced by a stint jobbing as an actor. As an adolescent growing up in Cape Town, Lehulere appeared in numerous small roles on television. However, his ambitions as a mature actor were frustrated when he was told that his mixed-race identity prevented him from credibly playing a black actor. So he began to draw, write scripts, work on collaborative projects with Cape Town friends, as well as orchestrate live art performances. In 2008, Lehulere decided to enroll in fine art studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (where Kentridge studied politics and African history in the 1970s). While he regrets the decision to study—“I feel like it took a lot out of me, and I didn’t receive much”—he is less ambivalent about his decision to move to Johannesburg. “The city is crazy and its energy is addictive,” says Lehulere, whose wall-sized drawings earned him the 15th Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel in June. Works by Lehulere and Koloane will be part of The Circle Walked Casually, an exhibition curated by Victoria Noorthoorn at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.

Although now better known for his drawing installations, which combine figurative and abstract compositions with fragments of text (“When the walls fall, so do the writings on them,” read a line of text on the drawing he created for “My Joburg”), Lehulere was ambivalent about exhibiting his early drawings. Originally conceived as storyboards for his scripts for unrealized film works, he credits Johannesburg curator Gabi Ngcobo, a long-time collaborator he met in Cape Town, with shifting his attitude. One evening, while visiting the artist, Ngcobo saw some of his drawings on the floor. She asked if she could put them on a show. “Initially I was skeptical because I didn’t have much confidence in them,” Lehulere told curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist last year. When he saw them up on a gallery wall, his sense of their potential shifted.

While living in Cape Town, Lehulere and Ngcobo were both members of Gugulective, an artist-led group; when they moved to Johannesburg, they continued to work collaboratively under the banner of the Center for Historical Reenactments. A mobile platform for exhibition making and engagement founded by Ngcobo, its members include Donna Kukama, a multimedia artist working in performance, video, text, and sound installation. In 2011, Lehulere and Ngcobo oversaw a multi-form event commemorating Gito Baloi, the Mozambican-born musician murdered at a traffic intersection in 2004. The event included the production of a large mural commemorating Baloi’s life, a performance by Lehulere, and a T-shirt printing workshop overseen by the Keleketla! Library.

Founded in 2008, this independent library and media arts project is situated in a former military bartracks on the eastern edge of the old CBD, in Doornfontein, long a site of musical and cultural experiment. As with the nearby Parking Gallery, a self-described “malleable” artist-run project space founded by Simon Gush, an artist with a deep interest in the city’s labor movements, the library offers a muchneeded recreational space in a densely inhabited part of the city with no municipal library. “One element that emerged from the beginning was to combine all the founders’ previous experiences, collectively as DJs, writers, designers, and emcees, with that of library managers,” says Rangoato Hlasane, a cofounder of Keleketla! Library. Five years on and the library is a site of imaginative resistance in a city marked by unlovely commercial sprawl.

While Johannesburg has consistently been dismissed as ugly—novelist Olive Schreiner described it as “hell,” Winston Churchill thought it “Monte Carlo superimposed on Sodom and Gomorrah,” and journalist Lewis Nkosi likened it to a barren desert— the city inspires devotion and rapture by its artist inhabitants. “I am sometimes so relieved when I am away,” admits Kentridge, “but it is also necessary to get back. Everybody who lives here has a strong love-hate relationship with the city. There are some parts that are intolerable and some parts that are fantastic.” It is the awkward balancing of these two poles that lends the art coming out of contemporary Johannesburg its remarkable urgency and momentum.




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