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.