Monday, September 19, 2011

The big Horse shebang at Everard Read/Circa

Ricky Burnett emerges from the cool and dark concrete gallery on the ground level of the Circa Gallery. He has just finished a discussion with James Sey, one of the 60 artists showing on the gargantuan Horse exhibition that colonises this imposing circular gallery on Jan Smuts Avenue in Rosebank and the adjacent Everard Read gallery.

He seems slightly distracted and flustered when we begin to chat; it’s a day before the grand opening, which has been billed as one of the social events of the year. Artworks are still being installed and labelled. It’s the end of a demanding process, in which Burnett interacted with each artist who was commissioned to produce a work around the equine theme. The days preceding the exhibition have been the hardest, he has had to negotiate an unknown quantity; though he had a sense what each artist had planned on producing, he couldn’t predict what they would deliver.
“Those who I thought would submit a sculpture, gave us a painting. Those who said they would give us one painting brought a series of 10. Others who promised a triptych delivered only one artwork. I really didn’t know what I would be getting.”

This is not a conventional approach to curating. Not that Burnett is known for adhering to conventions: he made history with his landmark Tributaries: A View of Contemporary South African Art, an exhibition held in 1985 where black artists showed alongside white artists for the first time under the contemporary rubric. This time round Burnett is not pioneering a new take on curating: a different brand of curating seems to have already taken hold in the local art scene.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Nathaniel Stern's Compressionism

Impressionism has become so unsexy in the last couple of decades. Well, in art circles, that is. Mostly it’s because this once avant-garde French movement has been embraced with such gusto by the masses. For this reason many overseas public galleries wishing to up the foot traffic in their institutions and assert their relevance to society stage themed shows from this period, or exhibitions by artists connected to it.

The frequency of these impressionism blockbusters has rendered the art from that movement blasé. So it is surprising to find a multi-media artist who embraces what is termed “contemporary practice” to be so captured by the art of Claude Monet and in particular his artwork Water Lilies (1914-1926). As the title suggests they are paintings of the most banal of still life subject matter: tranquil ponds dotted with lilies Monet spied in his garden in Giverny, France.

For Nathaniel Stern the radicalism of the impressionist vocabulary hasn’t quite worn off. He returns to it anew with an eye for reinventing it for the digitised era. Like many viewers who have stood in front of Monet’s large scale paintings in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Stern was seduced by the romantic, hazy lens through which Monet depicted this bucolic scene. In his version of Monet’s Water Lilies he has retained the large scale in his triptych Giverny of the Midwest – the pond he studied was in Indiana. Stern was aware scale played an important role in creating an immersive experience for viewers. He deconstructs and then reconstructs Monet’s approach, but this activity is not in service of demystifying, or satirising it, but re-enacting a moment in art history using digital media.