Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shoddy arts journalism and Riason Naidoo's Pierneef to Gugulective


I chuckled when I read David Smith’s story  in The Guardian  about Riason Naidoo who was said to have produced a “fierce backlash” for removing paintings of “the likes of Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds” when he installed his exhibition 1910 - 2010: Pierneef to Gugulective. It was a poor piece of journalism for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the supposed “fierce backlash” occurred somewhere in May so it has taken Smith almost four months to report on the event – not that his editors in the UK would notice but I suppose that is one of the benefits of being stationed in “Africa”.

Secondly, Smith constantly refers to Naidoo’s racial profile, establishing this notion that he is defined by his race. It  also is part of an effort to polarise the South African art scene, defining it as one neatly divided along racial lines. I suppose Smith isn’t aware of the code of ethics that journalists here are beholden too, which states that the racial profile of an interviewee/subject should not be included unless it is absolutely pertinent to the story.

Thirdly, I hardly think that a negative review in the SA Art Times is any reflection of the views in the South African art world. The views expressed in the SA ART Times are those of its editor, Gabriel Clarke-Brown. Had Smith actually bothered to interview anyone else in the art world he might have discovered that not everyone shares Clarke-Brown’s point of view. Of course, it wasn’t just laziness, it was strategic; he wanted to sensationalise the appointment of a ‘black’ director to the museum, positioning him as one who would naturally eschew the old colonial artworks in favour of contemporary works thus painting a stereotypical scene in which the new black appointment “ruffles the feathers” of the old guard.    Has Smith actually seen Pierneef to Gugulective, because there are quite a number of artworks from the colonial era?