THE SOUTH AFRICAN
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Erik Laubscher in his studio. Photo: Steve Kretzmann
Laubscher vs. State
A payment spat between top painter and cultural museum reveals apparent state of incompetence Steve Kretzmann Erik Laubscher is “astounded” at the inefficiency and incompetence at Pretoria’s National Cultural History Museum after it took almost six months to be paid money owed to him and other artists. And a manager at the museum has said the tardiness in paying artists is just the tip of an iceberg of incompetence at the institution. Laubscher, 82, who is acclaimed as a major contributor to the legacy of South African painting, said it was unacceptable that artists had to wait months for payment from a state institution after work was sold on exhibition. A Laubscher still life fetched over R1.2 million on auction last year, so unsurprisingly, the painting ‘New Dam, Swartland’, which he submitted to the museum’s ‘Enviro Art Wow’ exhibition in October last year with a R75 000 price tag, was snapped up, netting R15 000 in commission for the museum. But it took almost six months, much badgering, and forms from the museum which had to be signed in retrospect, for the R60 000 owed to Laubscher to be paid into his account. The four other artists whose work sold had the same experience. The museum finally paid Laubscher on March 10, and has settled with the other artists, but
without paying interest for the months they held the money, or, alternatively as Laubscher suggested, reimbursing them for the costs of couriering their works to the exhibition. In an email to Makgolo Makgolo, CEO of Ditsong Museums of South Africa (formerly the Northern Flagship Institute) under which the museum falls, dated March 1, Laubscher wrote: “I find it incredible that a National Museum is either so incompetent or totally disrespectful of artists who supported your ‘Cultural Event’ (that they would take months to pay monies owed).” This was after enquiries earlier in the year. In reply to Laubscher, Makgolo said: “When a document (for payment) was brought to me to approve by officials you were dealing with at the museum, there was no document showing that there was an agreement between yourself and my institution.” Makgolo went on to say that if he had made payment without “such an agreement” his office would have come under fire from the Auditor General. Agreements were then hastily constructed and sent out to the artists in February. They had to sign these and return them before payments were processed. Continued on Page 4
Labia Museum to open as cultural centre
The resurrection of an elegant age: The Fort is the former Muizenburg residence of Count and Countess Labia which has recently been restored and will re-open it’s doors in May as a cultural centre and events location complete with contemporary art gallery and café. See May’s Art Times for more details.
Robert Hodgins passes on Robert Griffiths Hodgins (27 June 1920 - 15 March 2010). He was a national treasure: a towering talent, an important influence on generations of students and followers of the fine arts, a respected mentor, a massive positive force of energy, an inspiration to many and fount of knowledge and understanding - he was all these things to those who knew him, and more. Just a wonderful man, dear friend, and terrific human being, who was also widely regarded as South Africa’s greatest contemporary painter. We at the Goodman Gallery are saddened at the death of Robert Hodgins, and his loss will leave an enormous gap in our lives. Possessed of a mischievous and curious eye with which to critically evaluate the doings of humankind, a lively wit, the sensitivity to include himself in his impressions of our species and a healthy cynicism, Robert was the keenest observer of life one could meet. We are all much the poorer for his passing, and he will be sadly missed even by many who knew him only through his output of paintings and graphics. Writing this, I am aware that our sadness is for ourselves, those who are left behind, in a world which will always be less exciting, less colourful, less amusing and less intelligent without him. He was a human treasure house of knowledge, and the loss of his prodigious mind and memory for poetry, mythology, music and literature with him, seems like the loss of the great ancient library of Alexandria. (Robert would say: ‘less of the ancient, if you please!’) We shall miss Robert greatly, but feel sure his adventures will continue wherever he is now. Robert Hodgins lived a long and successful life, and found being ill ‘tedious, dear boy, just too tedious!’ He was aware the end of his life was near, and ‘quite ready to depart this mortal coil if I cannot paint!’ He was an accomplished and well-loved artist, a great friend and an extraordinary human being in that he was so constantly and energetically involved in The Great Human Drama, right to his last day. Fortunately he has left a legacy of excellent work behind him, which in our museums, academic and other public collections will continue to enrich our lives for many years. Neil Dundas, The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg. (Image: Robert Hodgins at David Krut, Johannesburg)
Present an exhibition of recent works by
SIMON STONE 8–25 April 2010 6 Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196 Tel: +27 11 788 4805 Fax: +27 11 788 5914 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.everard-read.co.za To arrange a preview kindly contact the gallery or visit our website Gallery hours: Monday to Friday 9am–6pm Saturday 9am–1pm The Day Before Yesterday, Oil on canvas, 1750 x 940 mm
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Bakoven, Oil on canvas, 1750 x 940 mm
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You are invited to our 20 & 21 April 2010 Johannesburg Auction of
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Lot 917 alexis preller STUDY WITH SKULL r400 000 - r600 000 Lot 909 Norman Catherine THE BOXERS r25 000 - r35 000
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VIEWING TIMES: FrIday 16, SaTurday 17 & SuNday 18 aprIl 2010 - 10am to 5pm For more information on Session Times, Absentee Bidding, Catalogues and Subscriptions, view our online catalogue at www.swelco.co.za
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South African Art Times April 2010
Fritha Langerman wins UCT Creative Works Award Fritha Langerman’s 2009 - 2010 exhibition ‘Subtle Thresholds: The representational taxonomies of disease’ has won the UCT Creative Works Award for 2010. The award is in its inaugural year this year and seeks to reward and major creative output of any kind (art works, performances, productions, compositions, architectural designs) produced by UCT staff members within the last five years, ‘Subtle Threshholds’, which is still on exhibition at the Iziko South African Museum is an exhibition of artifacts from the Natural and Social History Collections of Iziko Museums, as well as original artwork by Langerman, all exploring the tenuous boundaries that enclose both the physical body and the bodies of knowledge through which disease is understood; detailing the histories, language and visualisations of disease as both reality and cultural and medical construct.
Alette Wessels Kunskamer Maroelana Centre, 27 Maroelana Street, Maroelana, Pretoria GPS S25º 46.748’ EO28º 1.5615’ OPEN Mon to Fri 09h00 - 16h00 Saturday 09h00 - 13h00
IRMA STERN STILL LIFE WITH FISH 58 X 56 CM OIL ON CANVAS
Tel (+27) 12 346-0728 / Fax (+27) 12 346-0729 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Alette 082 652 6663
Gerrie 084 589 0711
A quality selection of SA old masters and selected contemporary art
South African Art Times April 2010
Laubschur vs. The State Continued from Page 1 Laubscher said he found it “incomprehensible” that it took so long to tackle the issue. He has since told Makgolo to donate the interest owed to the museum, because he realised “that your (Makgolo’s) organisation considers itself more important than the artists who make our culture.” True to his reputation as a firebrand, Laubscher added: “a tax certificate (for the donation) would be appreciated.” The tardy payments have revealed allegations of further incompetence at the Ditsong institutions. A senior employee at the National Cultural History Museum has slammed the institution for wasting money and resources, saying museum directors and Ditsong head SA_Art Times JANUARIE_10.indd 1
office were out of touch with what was happening at the institutions. He pointed out that the Natural Cultural History Museum’s space for housing temporary exhibitions, the Ochre Room, was only booked for two months in 2010. Artworks hanging in the museum were uncared for, he said, with watercolours by top artists hanging under direct lights for the past six years. “In another two years they’ll be bleached.” “No-one cares, from the bottom to the top. It’s a matter of take your salary and go home.” Senior education officer at the museum, Christo Rabie, who was given the task of organising and managing the Enviro Art Wow exhibit after he suggested it as a way of raising funds – even though exhibitions is not his department – lent weight to the allegations of mismanagement. Rabie said the pre-publicity for the
event, for example, was a disaster. An advertisement was designed to be placed in an arts publication, he said, but was never placed. This was despite him going to marketing division at Ditsong head office, handing over the advertising order forms and a copy of the exhibition poster to the relevant person. “The advert did not appear in that month’s edition, and he didn’t even try a month later” Rabie said the result was that he handed out posters to the artists who then put them up wherever they thought best. Saskia Kempff, former head of public programmes at the Ditsong Museum of Natural History (formerly the Transvaal Museum), said Makgolo was incompetent and could not do his job. Kempff left the NFI’s employ at the
end of November 2008, two months after she was reinstated into her position after being suspended on full pay for three months following her advising the NFI council that Makgolo was incompetent. “I still maintain he is incompetent,” said Kempff this week. Makgolo said he accepted there was a delay in payment to the artists, “but this was due to internal checks and balances which promote a culture of good governance.” He said the delay in payments was regretted. Regarding allegations of incompetence, he said: “There is very little that I can say on the allegations of incompetence against the institution and myself as the CEO.” He suggested queries be sent to the board.
2010/01/25 09:55:18 AM
l’Afrique: A Tribute to Maria Stein-Lessing and Leopold Spiegel at Museum Africa A collection of traditional African art and South African modernist painters
Curated by Nessa Leibhammer and Natalie Knight Open daily Tuesday to Sunday 9-5 Running until December 24, 2010 Enquiries 011-833-5624 Museum Africa
The education programme includes walkabouts and NCS linked interactive workshops on African art for Senior Phase Arts and Culture learners and an FET Phase Level workshop for History and Visual Arts educators, linked to an essay competition with major prizes for FET Phase learners. Education resources include a poster, DVD and a treasure hunt of 20 questions. Enquiries: Helene Smuts Arts Education Consultants cc Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Or phone/fax (011) 622 7871
Cecil Skotnes, Reclining Figure, 1970 painted wood panel, woodcut Collection Johannesburg Art Gallery
Barotse wooden bowl Collection Natalie Knight
Maggie Laubser, Woman and Baby, 1922; Collection University of the Witwatersrand
South African Art Times April 2010
Artist melts down Carrol Boyes for fresh New Work Young Capetonian artist Rowan Smith is known for his Michaelis Prize winning Future Shock Lost and the more recent If You Get Far Enough Away You’ll Be On Your Way Back Home; exhibitions which deal with the iconography of space travel, obsolete technology and outer-space in works which, when not presenting found readymades, embrace nostalgiainducing traditional sculptural materials like bronze and carved wood. His latest work, however, is a lot more sinister: The artist was approached Linda Stupart (LS): I know the background of the work, but is the donor of the Carrol Boyes still remaining anonymous? Rowan Smith (RS): Yes, I have no idea who he is. (LS): Even you don’t know? That’s amazing... RS: Do you know what I ended up casting? LS: No, that was the next question… So, what did you end up casting? RS: 23 Spent champagne corks, it’s as many corks as the material allowed. The more corks the bigger the hangover... I liked the idea of a love hangover, or a marriage hangover. LS: … and that hangover is your Carrol Boyes? RS: What do you mean? LS: I mean that the material that
you’re starting with is already like the leftovers, the dregs of a relationship; what is ‘left’ to someone... RS: Exactly. LS: And how are you arranging the work? RS: The corks are haphazardly placed across the surface of a plinth, some standing up some lying down, counter-top-debrisesque. LS: How do you see this work in relation to your previous work, how do you think it fits into your oeuvre, since the iconography is quite different to what you usually work with? RS: Well, I’ve been looking for opportunities to break from my previous work, in terms of iconography, but I don’t think it’s entirely different to how I have approached making work in the past.
by the proprietors of Fringe Arts with an unusual commission: A wealthy, recently divorced man had received, as part of his divorce settlement, half of their (himself and his now ex-wife’s) collection of Carrol Boyes ‘Functional Art’. His response was to commission the artist to melt down the valuable collection of pewter cutlery and accessories and make a sculpture from this new raw material. I spoke to Smith about this new work: LS: I think it shares the sense of loss, and a certain interrogation of the romantic, the nostalgic... RS: Exactly, just in an entirely different context. Perhaps less nostalgia, I don’t think it’s a nostalgic piece. Sense of loss definitely, because there was a loss associated with the material from the beginning. LS: It’s a lot more openly cynical I think. RS: I agree, more cynical LS: In some ways, I think it works similarly to the work relating to space disasters or the tragedy of progress (hence interrogating nostalgia, as opposed to perpetuating it) where you at first recognize something pretty and romantic, and then see that just below the surface is something really sinister. RS: I think that’s a good reading
of the work LS: Yay LS: So, what’s the title? RS: Well, the French have a term for the sound of opening champagne, ‘Le Soupir Amoureux’, which translates as ‘Loving Whisper’… LS: If a gentle hiss is produced… So it’s the sound if the cork is eased off as opposed to shoots off, which is nice. RS: Exactly. LS: ... “Not with a bang but a whimper”. RS: (laughs) … a whisper. Le Soupir Amoureux will be on show at The Fringe pop up stall at City Hall for the duration of the Spier Contemporary 2010.
Supplement to The South African Art Times, as part of The Great South African Art Masters Series
rma Stern 1894-1966
Irma Stern in her studio, at home at The Firs, Rosebank, Cape Town
‘I work a long time at a picture in my head…I never touch the canvas after it is finished.’ Irma Stern is celebrated as one of South Africa’s most prolific and ubiquitous artists and she is credited with playing a central role in introducing avant-garde art to South Africa. The prices that her work generate at auction houses nowadays, both locally and in London, bears testament to this. Since her range of work is of such prodigious creativity and diversity, and the impact that she has left on the local art scene is still reverberating today, numerous books, essays, journals and articles have been devoted to Stern and her work. In fact, more words have probably been devoted to Irma Stern’s existence and reality, her art, her themes and her writings than to any other South African artist. Furthermore, she herself penned two illustrated journals - Congo (1943) and Zanzibar (1948) - about her travels and a number of long articles. Marion Arnold observes that in most assessment of Stern’s work, the issue of South African modernism often dominates, with literature falling ‘into two camps:
“Stern as an Expressionist” and “Stern and the spirit of Africa’’’. But in recent years, her work has been subjected to gender studies and post-colonial discourses, which offer fresh perspectives. Stern is often regarded as a white female artist who depicted the heart and spirit of Africa through a romanticised lens, unable or unwilling to penetrate the surface that she witnessed. It is claimed that she tailored and exploited what she saw and personalised it in her artistic version of idyllic Africa. Through the lens of post-Apartheid, she is sometimes condemned for her representations of indigenous people in South Africa and the rest of the African continent, which are perceived, with hindsight, to be patronising and idealised. However Stern, despite being an artist firmly entrenched in the colonial mould, expanded her artistic, geographical and personal boundaries into Africa far more than any South African artist of her time.
The artist as a person
Irma as a young lady
Irma photographed by Cecil Beaton
A rich body of sources reveals Stern as an incredibly complex character who used her exuberant art, with its colourful masses, spontaneous lines and emotive marks, to compensate for her internal frustrations and futile search for meaningful relationships. She was a person of contradictions: highly-strung, irrational, intimidating, imperious, moody and combative, but capable of enormous generosity and warmth. Uncertain in her personal relationships, she was suspicious of people and easily swayed by gossip. Stern was notorious for her immense jealousy of other artists such as Wolf Kibel, another celebrated Expressionist painter in South Africa. And once, in a fit of pique, she cancelled a solo exhibition because the eminent art dealer, Joe Wolpe, greeted
Irma at home at her home, The Firs, Rosebank, CT
Maggie Laubser (1886-1973) first at a party. But she was recognised for her wry sense of humour, revealed through amusing quirks like ‘I do not drink a sip of water only soda and whisky’. She was also a gourmand and gourmet, capable of consuming an entire jar of honey at once. This made Stern physically insecure; in her youth she was short and plump with strong features, and as she aged she became massively overweight. Stern once commented, quite tragically, that ‘so strong is my feeling of self-consciousness - my body bothers me - I am afraid of the eyes of strangers’. Nonetheless, she was drawn to fashionable clothes and indulged in expensive shoes.
Early Life The narration of Irma Stern’s life would be good material for a film. She was born in 1894 to German Jewish parents in Schweizer-Reineke, a tiny town that had opened to white settlement only a decade earlier in the North Province of South Africa. By her own account, she was born in a post-office, while the Stern family home was being built. Her father, Samuel Stern, owned a farm and a large business, trading with the surrounding farmers. At the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, the British interned Samuel in a concentration camp due to his pro-Boer sympathies. So Hennie (nee Fels), the mother, took Stern and her younger brother, Rudi, to Germany for three years. They returned to South Africa only at the end of the war when the family relocated to Wolmaranstad in the Transvaal. Thereafter, Stern’s youth was characterised by constant interchange and travel between Germany and South Africa. She was to say later to a journalist in 1931 that ‘this divided upbringing … leaves one with the feeling of belonging to nowhere.’ Nonetheless, rooted in both Europe and Africa, the resultant split became not only fundamental to the construction of Irma Stern’s identity, it also determined her artistic work. In some ways, her life and art manifested the ‘partial disharmony’ of the two cultures. At 17, she resolved to commit herself fully to a career of art, and was accepted at Grossherzoglich Sachsiche Hochschule fur Bildende Kunst in Weimar in April 1913, where a special class had been introduced for women. There was a resurgence of creative ﬂair that made Berlin the centre of art and culture; the art scene was a place of revolutionary debates about the socio-political aspects of art which would have had profoundly shaped Stern’s mindset. Stern was also exposed to the likes of Ernst Kirchner (1880-1938), Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907), Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) and many others. When she began her studies at the Weimar Academy at the age of 19, not long before the outbreak of World War I (and the family had to remain in Germany for its duration), it was under the tutelage of American Impressionist Gari Melchers. The Weimar Academy was later to become the first home of the famous ‘Bauhaus’, and its radical ideas on art and craftsmanship of all kinds. But at that time, it was still very academic, so a dissatisfied Stern transferred her studies to the Levin-Funcke studio in Berlin. There she was taught by Martin Brandenburg who educated her about neo-Impressionist techniques and theories. In 1916 she painted one of her most well-known works, Eternal Child, which was a remarkably mature representation of a young victim of war. Painted in a free, subjective manner, the large eyes in the child’s thin face and the undersized hands emphasise the privations of war. Brandenburg strongly disapproved of this painting, provoking Stern to leave formal tuition. It was only when she met Max Pechstein the following year that she felt she had found a true mentor. Later, Stern exhibited at the Freire Sezession, and was a founding member of the progressive Novembergruppe. She held her first one-person exhibition at the Fritz Gurlitt Gallery in 1919.
Institute Exhibition in London. In the same year, a monograph was written about her by the German critic Max Osborn, in a series that included Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne and Vincent van Gogh. It was ironic that she received this recognition in Europe while still being unappreciated in her own country. But public opinion in South Africa was gradually influenced positively by the acknowledgment that she had received in Germany, France and England, and her espousal of modernism and primary tools of colour and rhythm were slowly embraced by the local community. Even Roworth, whose reactionary views on art reigned over the art scene, was sympathetic to her art. Stern, despite repeated rejection, lived to witness a much-altered public attitude towards her work.
Irma in her studio, The Firs
Umgababa (1922): Oil on canvas, Irma Stern Museum. Stern discovered Umgababa on the Natal South Coast towards the end of 1922, remarking that she ‘went on my way, until one day, like a sign from heaven, a vision led me to the place where I believed myself able to hear the heartbeat of Africa – Umgababa.’ What is often striking about Stern’s art, aside from the pictorial language that she employed, is the visible absence of unspoken fears, disappointments, and the effects of poverty, dispossession, and war either in Africa or Europe. Yet ironically, the image, Umgababa, is one of the few earlier paintings by Stern that revealed a world less idealised. The railway line, cutting the composition in half, evokes intrusions of civilization and technology into nature. In the background, the dark clouds are threatening and the mood conveyed by the deep greens and blues are oppressive.
garb ... to those of us who saw the beauty of the native in his natural state the change is sad’. It is at this point that she began to look north of South Africa for new stimulations of the ‘unspoiled’ and the ‘exotic’. For a single woman to travel tens of thousands of kilometers into Africa to seek places and people to paint and acquire objects was during those days remarkable. She also visited Madeira in 1931 – a journey that stimulated many well-known works. In 1937 she made her first excursion to Islamic Africa. En route to Genoa in Italy, her boat docked at Dakar. A brief onshore expedition compelled her to return a year later. In Dakar, all colour values seemed reversed; for instance, the sky was darker in colour than the sea. Therefore it is no surprise that it tapped into Stern’s adventurous aesthetics, who described it as ‘a moral cesspool … but the most paintable spot I’ve ever struck (Cape Times: 3 March 1938). There was no shortage of subjects in streets, markets, shops and cafes for her brush and charcoal. The images from this period are mostly watercolours and present a new range of colours specific to Dakar - tints of orange and pink, violet and blue – strengthening the conviction that colour mattered more than anything to Stern.
It was after being exposed to Expressionism in Germany, and having achieved the status of an exhibiting artist, that Stern returned to South Africa in 1920. By then, she had spent less than ten years in South Africa. She confessed later to having felt ‘trapped’ in Berlin during World War I, and perhaps this explained her decision to return to South Africa. She must also have had the desire to work in the environment of Africa that she knew and remembered: ‘During the years I spent in Europe studying there was always one idea in my mind – back in Africa, the country of my birth, the land of sunshine, of radiant colours, where the fruit grows plentifully and the flowers seem to reach the summit of all joy.’ Stern was driven by the conviction of her art, despite the initial controversy and storm of abuse it engendered in the colonial and staid environment of South Africa. The vociferous reception to her art has now assumed legendary proportions. When she first exhibited a show titled ‘Exhibition of Modern Art by Miss Irma Stern’ at Ashbey’s Art Gallery in 1922, the occasion was marked by a police investigation of alleged charges of immorality. The newspaper reported on the masses flocking to see it: ‘There is a constant stream of visitors throughout the day, and once during the lunch-hour, the crowd was so great that waiting queues had to be formed.’ (Cape Argus, 11 February 1922) Most South Africans artists like Edward Roworth were still painting in conventional styles, and this was what the conservative and parochial public in Cape Town liked and expected. The ideas of Post-Impressionism and Expressionism were slow to reach this country. Even a decade later, when Stern exhibited in Johannesburg in 1933, the editor of the Sunday Times headlined an outraged article: ‘Irma Stern Chamber of Horrors’. Cape Town received Stern’s modernist art, and her new way of representing reality in her art, as social rebelliousness. The passion of her work was regarded as distinctly unladylike. This brings to mind a statement by Stern: ‘My appearance is that of a well-dressed lady, but inwardly I run more and more wild.’
An image from Stern’s Paradise Journal: ‘Searching I roamed the world – to arrive at origin – at beauty – at truth – away from the lies of everyday – and my longing was burning hot – then the darkness opened up and I stood at the source of the beginning – Paradise’
Despite being embittered by vituperative criticism, Stern continued to develop her very personal style and to travel overseas on a regular basis. She displayed her work at the Empire Exhibition in London in 1924. In 1927, Stern won the Prix d’Honneur at the Bordeaux International exhibition and in 1929 she became the sole selector for the South African entry to the Imperial
Centurion Johannesburg 1935 During the 1920s, she started her motoring tours of southern Africa, visiting Natal, Swaziland, Pondoland and Namaqualand where she captured the character of local people in paintings and drawings. Stern’s pictorial style may declare her European origins, but her vision was increasingly stimulated by her intense contacts with many places and people throughout South Africa. On a more cynical level, it could be said that Stern recognised that the ‘authentic’ experiences of Africa could be marketed in Europe because of the interest in ‘primitivist’ art and its dichotomous relationship to modernity was well-established. But she was not alone as an artist in her love of the primitive and the exotic, as Paul Gauguin had also sought escape from civilization in Tahiti, and Pablo Picasso had been influenced by North African woodcarvings and masks.
Irma setting out on one of her many travels
Middle Career In the thirties, Stern continued to go on painting trips within South Africa She complained in an interview that after her return from Swaziland in 1933 that ‘it was a shock to me to see how the natural picturesqueness of the native in his kraal had almost disappeared…. Today he has submitted to civilization … he wears Everyman’s clothes and boots. He looks odd and drab in this
The Swazi Girls (1931): Oil on canvas, Iziko South African National Gallery. Painted during a trip to Swaziland, this Eden-like image seems to be a blend of European and African influences; the Swazi girls are painted almost as if they were trollops in Berlin. There is a sense of sophistication and calculation in the appearances of the women, who are bizarrely given blond mops of hair. They are placed in a colourful and decorative setting replete with rolling hilltops in the background. A rooster lies in the arm of one while an enormous fruit is atop the head of another. Swazi Girls shows Stern’s assimilation of German Expressionism in bold delineation, heightened colour and strong tonal contrasts, and reflects not only Pechstein’s enduring influence but the expressive styles of other Die Brücke artists such as Ernest Kirchner or Emil Nolde. Here, it is as if Stern imagined a paradisical Africa, rather than depicting the reality of Africa.
Restrictions on continental travel imposed by the Second World War caused Stern to confine her inveterate travelling to Africa alone. She made several journeys - Zanzibar in 1939, the Congo in 1942 and Zanzibar again in 1945. The three jaunts gave her enough stimulus and material for a flood of creative work that defined the high point of her career. In the Zanzibar Arabs and Mangbetu and Watussi of the Congo, Stern found the outlandish and colourful models she wanted. Her intimate relationships and affiliation with remote cultures affirmed her African heritage. As she travelled through South Africa and then Africa, her works increasingly manifested a passionate longing for the antithetical mirror image. As a woman who did not conform to stereotypical expectations of her time, Stern was strongly attracted to people who exuded beauty and grace. Her fascination with the customs and dress of the people she depicted imbued her artistic intentions. Africa was considered a ‘dark’ continent but Stern saw it as a rich mine of light and colour that could intoxicate and challenge her vision. In her now mature style her use of vivid oil colour applied thickly and with rhythmic liveliness gave her paintings a vitality and exuberance, which was enhanced by distorted use of line. Her Zanzibar paintings reflect the physical senses of the place, embodying the perfumed opulence and sensory seductions of the Spice Island. There is mellow warmth in many of her Arab portraits such as The Golden Shawl (1945). The somewhat flat tones of her earlier work have yielded to a two-dimensional effect in her art in which she contrives to obtain space through intense concentration of light and shade. In her Zanzibar journal, Stern’s visual responses to the environment is very much couched in colour terminology: “...fish are brought in straight from the sea,
Dudley: Irma’s mystery companion of over 20 years In addition to her professional struggle in overcoming people’s opposition to her artistic style, her private life was not smooth sailing. She married Johannes Prinz in 1926, then professor of German at the University of Cape Town. He was a long-time friend of the Stern family and once the object of Stern’s affection when she was a teenager. However, the marriage was most unsuccessful and ended in divorce in 1934. It is possible that Stern’s failure to establish satisfactory emotional and sexual relationships drove her to achieve as an artist. She apparently never had a successful relationship with a man (though she did meet Dudley Welch in 1935, who subsequently lived with her and was a companion until her death).
Irma in her favourate chair where she held court. Not much has changed in the lounge since Irma’s death, The Firs is now a living museum.
Cartoon by F.L Alexander: In this cartoon, F.H Alexander, art critic for Die Burger, depicted Irma Stern holding court in her lounge, enthroned on her favourite elaborately carved highback chair. She is huge and majestic, presiding over a retinue of tiny guests.
Irma with one of her favourate hats huge skites, small vivid blue fish with yellow stripes, silvery kinds, red roman, enormous lobsters as made of turquoise matrix, phantastic huge turtles-all came out of the tropical sea. The stall had a daily surprise of strange kinds of fruit and vegetables. A pale yellow grapefruit called ballunga intrigued me. When I opened it the flesh was a lovely pink embedded in a heavy woollen white... There is a variety of bananas, small yellow, large green, as long as a man’s forearm, fat red bananas which are rich in flavour, thin twisted green bananas, long yellow looking bananas, gourds and pumpkins...”
Marion Arnold notes that during the fifties Stern’s art ‘veers between an interest in controlled, contrived design, rhythmic, lightly painted oils and statements dominated by thick paint and brutally expressionistic textures.’ She also observes of the sixties that Stern’s work becomes consolidated, ‘using a loose brushstroke; colour is pure and paint is applied thinly in broad gestural strokes which touch the canvas lightly …. Some images are rudimentary, urgently executed colour notes hastily transcribed on white canvases while others are serene and confident visions of life transformed into art.’ Neville Dubow likewise described her later work: ‘…her earlier rich impasto technique gave way from the fifties onwards to a different means of attack – she began to favour lighter, finer canvas which she often allowed to show through. Her palette lightened tonally…’. Towards the end of her life, Stern’s travels decreased in frequency, though she visited Spain in 1960 and France in 1963. Her work had been exhibited at the Venice Biennale on four different occasions (1950, 1952, 1954, 1958) and at the Sao Paolo Biennale in 1957. She also received several awards: the Guggenheim Foundation National Award for South Africa in 1960, and in 1965 the Medal of Honour from ‘Die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns’. After a lifetime of nearly 100 solo shows, Stern’s last exhibition was in 1966 at the Wolpe Gallery in Strand Street. Esther Kluk, once an owner of Gallery International, remembers how her brother ‘arrived at the very steep steps up to the new Strand Street gallery, to find Irma Stern at the bottom with some helpers attempting to assist her up the stairs. She was not well at all at that stage and the steps were formidable. It is amusing to recall how it took three men to get her up the stairs, at least two of which, including my brother, had to push her from the back.’ A week before the exhibition opening, Irma Stern became precariously ill and was taken to the Volkshospitaal. One night, Joe Wolpe had a premonition that she would not live long. He fetched Dudley Welch and together they went to the hospital. Joe recalls that Dudley held one of Stern’s paintings – a dramatic landscape of a fishing harbour in Madeira – up before her. She died soon after. Joe also remembers that when he was driving home afterwards at dusk, paper vendors were already putting up headlines notifying the public of Stern’s death.
Rare photograph of Dudley Welch with Irma Stern - together with Inge and Jean Welz Irma Stern met Dudley Welch at one of her exhibitions in Durban in 1935, and they met again in 1939 when he joined a firm of architects based in Cape Town. He came to live with Stern at the Firs in 1944, becoming her companion and manager of her business affairs until her death. A considerable body of evidence disappeared with him when he returned to England, since no one interviewed him about Stern, despite the fact that he had lived with her for at least twenty years. Many of Stern’s friends were dismissive of him, and he was perceived as a ‘male servant’ who lived off her. Their relationship was ambiguous (he was rumoured to be bisexual) and Stern stated once in a letter that ‘he is unreliable to a degree that it breaks my heart to think he is my best friend and wanted to
The Irma Stern Museum living the exciting legacy today
Irma Stern today
Photo: Liza Grobelaar
Congolese Woman (1946) was auctioned for R7 390 000 at Christies’ London in December 2007, smashing the record auction price for her work and the record for any South African picture at auction
End By the fifties, Stern painted mainly from a European approach, dissatisfaction with Africa providing one reason for Stern’s extensive European travels during this time: ‘Now I no longer feel at ease among primitive people. On my painting tour in the Transkei a few months ago I found things had changed since my earlier visits - perhaps the change lay in the Natives, perhaps in myself. But the old ease of communication had gone’ (Cape Argus, 1953). So she set new goals, and turned to Europe for her subjects. The subjects of the fifties and sixties are mainly scenes of field workers, grape harvesters, fishermen and idyllic fishing harbours. They are spontaneously rendered hedonistic images symbolising fertility and fecundity, and owe something to both Henri Matisse and Raoul Dufy. One such example is the Pimento Pickers (1962) The fifties are also notable for religious subjects. In turning to religious imagery, she divulges her need for spiritual fulfillment. Although she never denied her Jewishness she did not observe the rituals and was probably more swayed by the pomp and splendour of Catholicism.
When Stern died, the contents of her home and studio were left as a legacy to the University of Cape Town as a museum while her personal papers were given to the South African Library in Cape Town. These two locations now house the wealth of studies on Stern. A number of exhibitions were mounted after her death, both in South Africa and in Europe, beginning with a 1967 exhibit in London and a show in Cape Town in 1968. Since the centennial anniversary of her birth in 1994, there has been renewed interest in her work. The Standard Bank Gallery undertook the responsibility of hosting an overview of Stern’s compositions in 2003. However, it is at the auction houses that Stern’s work created the most excitement and fanfare. During Stern’s last exhibition at the Wolpe Gallery, the top price paid was 500 guineas. Today, Stern ranks as one of the most sought-after South African artists alongside Jacob Hendrik Pierneef and Gerard Sekoto, and the high esteem in which her work is held in the art market is vigorously driving the prices of her work into the millions. Indian Woman (1936) at Sotheby’s Cape Town/Stephan Welz and Co fetched R7 260 000 in February 2007 and Congolese Woman (1946) was auctioned for R7 390 000 at Christies’ London in December 2007, smashing the record auction price for her work and the record for any South African picture at auction. Carla (1944) at Strauss and Co garnered R5 570 000 in 2009, and Magnolias in an Earthenware Pot (1949) achieved a staggering R 7 241 000 at Strauss and Co. in March 2009, a world record for a still-life by the artist. The enthusiasm and curiosity surrounding Irma Stern’s artworks at auction have done more for her reputation than any scholarship on her.
A large Victorian double-storied house called ‘The Firs’ in Rosebank, Cape Town, was bought for Stern by her parents in 1927, and it remained her home until her death. The house became the Irma Stern Museum in 1971, established by the Trustees of her estate. The Museum encapsulates the ebullient spirit of the artist, and also serves as a repository of her exotic collections, culled from her extensive travels to Africa and Europe. The collection includes African carvings, textiles and masks, and the collection is enhanced by terracotta sculptures and bronzes from the early Mediterranean cultures, Chinese ceramics, Buddhist art and examples of religious carvings and icons. Stern’s soul was not only in her paintings but also in the items she had collected. She used her collection as a working tool: some appeared in her paintings while others remained as a source of inspiration. The prodigious nature of her art could not be contained and spilled out to the rest of her home, covering the panels of wardrobes and cupboards, such as the dining room cupboards, which illustrates Nativity scenes. The museum is indeed a colourful kaleidoscope of memories and objects that reveal intimately Irma Stern as an artist and person.
Natal Landscape (1936): Oil on canvas, Irma Stern Museum. In the 1930s, instead of basing her art on fantasies, her visual depictions became more rooted in real experiences. This landscape is a direct representation of the vista Stern observed on one of her expeditions in South Africa. It conveys what she glimpsed in an emotionally charged manner, and features the intuitive, spontaneous gesture of Stern’s brushstrokes. She responded to the mood and lushness of the landscape with intense, indigenous colours, and used them to divide the composition. This bold use of colour with its sensuous brush marks lends a sensation of richness to the thick texture of this painting.
The Golden Shawl (1945): Oil on canvas, Iziko South African National Gallery. This well-known and illustrious image depicts an old and thoughtful Zanzibar Arab with his picturesque turban and golden shawl, and his monumental head dominating the canvas. The man seems to be listening to something attentively. Yet we are more aware of the play of the light and colour. There are strong contrasts of shade and light: warm colours (red and yellow) are placed in the background, which contrasts with the cold colour of blue and blue-green that Stern concentrates in narrow contours in the foreground. The grayish-blue placed in the top corner is not grey and lifeless, because it is enlivened by the courageous swap of orange light. Strong analogous blues and greens combine to constitute the ‘grey’ of the man’s little goatee. Carved mouldings of ancient Zanzibar doors were used to give this work a frame which forms an integral part of the picture.
Arum Lilies (1951): Oil on canvas, Iziko South African National Gallery. The dominant theme of Stern’s prodigious oeuvre was abundance, fruitfulness and profusion, as evidenced in her still-lifes which are sumptuous and lush, tropical and flamboyant. She incorporated aspects of other cultures in this genre of painting by using various African masks and figures like the Buli master, as evident in Arum Lilies (1951). Her inclusion of the sculpture, surrounded by luxuriant flowers and ripe fruit, fuses the influence of Africa with the European tradition of still-life painting. Since Stern responded acutely to colour, it is hardly surprising that this still-life would display her colour sense so vividly: strokes of green colour bring together the sculpture, the yellow lemons, the blue vase and white arum lilies, all which gleam brightly against the black background.
Pimento Harvesters (1962): Oil on canvas, Iziko South African National Gallery. Harvesters became a considerable subject in the final years of Stern’s work. In this image the brushstrokes are more fluid and undefined than the volumetric forms she employed several decades earlier. The emphasis of warm autumnal colours evokes themes of fruitfulness and profusion.
Portrait of Lippy (1944): Oil on canvas, Iziko South African National Gallery. Stern produced an astonishing number of portraits in her lifetime. But she never painted a self-portrait, unlike her female contemporaries like Dorothy Kay, Maggie Laubser and Maud Sumner. Instead she focused on those around her like Siegbert Eick. He was a dealer in old prints who fled Nazi Germany and settled in Cape Town. Stern does not attempt to compliment her model and portrays him with a large folio, by which her signature dominates the cover.
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Portrait of Roza van Gelderen (circa 1930s): Oil on canvas, Irma Stern Museum. Stern’s skill was achieving a perfect orchestration between colours, as manifest in this dramatic portrait of Roza van Gelderen. She showed that light could be produced by colour areas instead of contrasts of light and dark; in other words, she used colour as light. A white turban, mixed with blue, is illuminated against the purple background, while green smudges under the sitter’s eye, side of nose and in the turban create shadows. The vivid red jacket reinforces the dabs of red on van Gelderen’s cheekbones, which interact with the complementary green. Van Gelderen was a prominent figure in Cape Town educational and intellectual circles. She was a principal of the Central Girls School from 1925 to 1945, and was a friend of Stern for over forty years.
‘AFTER THE STORM, ALICANTE’ by IRMA STERN signed and dated 1965 (lower left) oil on canvas, 72.5 x 92 cm
Maid in Uniform (1955): Oil on canvas, Irma Stern Museum The sitter’s downcast eyes and introverted demeanor do not engage the viewer as an equal. Her face evokes the notion of an African mask. The elongated face, narrow chin, prominent cheekbones and almond eyes can be seen in the depiction of the maid’s face. Here, the distinction between African artifacts and African people is uncomfortably blurred.
Dakar- Street with two Africans 1938, Watercolour on Paper
Rudolph von Freiling (1943): Oil on canvas, Irma Stern Museum. Rudolph von Freiling, a great friend of Irma Stern, was a patrician blonde and blue-eyed man who emigrated from Germany to South Africa during the 1930s with his partner Siegbert Eick. In this vital portrait, the viewer can sense the great sense of affinity that Stern had for this man, perhaps because of the same German sophisticated and intellectual background that they shared. The colour scheme here sets up an effervescent relationship between the blues and yellows, which draw out the red tones in the brown jacket of von
A Year in the life of the Artist
Freiling’s jacket. Here we see that Stern is actually circumspect in her choice of colour; she chooses a limited spectrum – yet the portrait is alive with hues and tones.
Artist’s Signature Style: Expressionism ‘Expressionism’ is one of the most frequent terms employed in artistic descriptions of Irma Stern’s oeuvre of work. Her experience of Expressionism was crystallised by her encounter with Max Pechstein (1881-1955) in Berlin in 1916. Pechstein was a well-known avant-garde artist and a leading member of Die Brϋcke, the early 20th Century German Expressionist movement. Fundamentally, Expressionism was a style which did not depict a subject objectively or accurately. Instead, its purpose was to portray subjects in such as way as to express the inner mood and mind of the artist. Consequently, use of distortion and exaggeration became its most pervasive trait; colour can be highly intense and non-naturalistic and paint application tends to be generous and greatly textured. Essentially Expressionism reveals a state of mind rather than formal representation. Stern met Pechstein after he had recently returned from two years in the Palau Islands near New Guinea. He was to exert a profound and enduring effect on the young Stern, who stated ‘to this truly generous and nobleminded artist I owe more gratitude than to anyone else’ (Cape Argus, 20 November 1923). He put Stern in touch with Matisse’s theory of pictorial
unity achieved by co-ordinating colour, tone, texture and rhythm. Pechstein also reinforced Stern’s need to experiment and nurtured her belief in her childhood memories of Africa. Thus her relationship with Pechstein served as a foundation for her development as an artist. Pechstein himself had turned to nature and natural man as the authentic source of artistic expression. The need to return to the concepts of ‘nature’, ‘simplicity’ and ‘innocence’ emerged as a response to Germany’s rapid industrialisation in the early 20th Century and the devastating effects of World War One. Visual elements of ‘primitivism’ were appropriated from the art of ‘non-European’ cultures as sources of artistic regeneration. Stern became keenly aware of the Expressionists’ concept of the exotic ‘primitive’ and its idealising view of the ‘other’. However, unlike most of her German Expressionist counterparts, she did eventually inhabit the environment of the ‘exotic’. When Stern returned to South Africa in 1920, she physically encountered the ‘primitive other’ that she had dreamed, and consequently her manner of painting changed. Depictions of real models replaced idealised images, which she had painted from memory. The exotic became her everyday experience.
Analysis of the Artist’s Work/Key Stylistic Influences: A Gargantuan Feast The bookshelves in Stern’s home abounded with books on Georges Braque (1882-1963), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Paul Cezanne (18391906), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) and Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). There were also tomes on German fairy tales, Ancient History, Primitive Art and sculptures of Africa. So while Irma Stern was undoubtedly influenced by her contact with the German Expressionists, particularly Max Pechstein, they were by no means the sole inspiring and significant factors acting on her art. We can see, for example, traces of Modigliani in her portraits; aspects of Van Gogh in her colours and the influence of Picasso in her forms. The plentiful body of work that Stern produced in her lifetime is a tribute to her versatility as an artist in terms of style and subject matter. Her art exhibits her emotional and spiritual response, rather than an intellectual one, to her surroundings and the people in it. Stern’s images are passionate, visually stimulating, sensuous and rich in texture: they often demonstrate her inner struggle to find a connection between her idealised world and reality. As an artist her output was tremendous; she was a rapid worker who was able to start and finish a large canvas in a day. Stern experimented with a vast range of different materials, methods and styles. Abhorring abstraction, her most arresting works are portraits, but she also painted landscapes and still-lifes. She dealt with these traditional genres in a daring and unrestricted technique: rich in colour and rooted in distortion and exaggeration, they intensify and heighten the emotional and visual effects of her subjects. As Hilda Purwitzsky once described it aptly: ‘Irma Stern has a large number of landscapes and still-lifes, the former flooded with violent sunshine, the latter flamboyant and luxuriant with all the ferocity of healthy growth only to be found in a country like South Africa.’ (Reform Advocate: 26 January 1929). Yet in many of her paintings, her lines appear sharp and vigorous, sometimes quick as lighting in their speed, and often drawn in spontaneous, direct brushstrokes. The oeuvre of Stern’s work did not remain static or stagnant. Paintings from the twenties and early thirties such as the Hunt (1925) and Swazi Girls (1931) show evidence of experiment with Cubist and Fauve principles, with emphasis on decorative stylisation in several early figuregroups. They epitomised exotic Africa, very different from earlier artists’ objective representations of indigenous people. Unlike ‘realist’ painters such as Dorothy Kay (1886-1964), Constance Greaves (1882-1966) and Barbara Tyrrell (b.1912), Stern’s art showed disregard for anatomical accuracy: arbitrary colours and an emotional involvement with her subject were her hallmark. In her early youth, she did employ thin paint, but from 1930, she started to use a loaded brush and to build dense surfaces of thick impastos that reveal the artist’s gesture on the surface of the work: the viewer can feel her brushstrokes. Such an example would be Natal Landscape (1936). By then, she had also begun to use her brush in combination with a painting knife, scraping paint over a canvas or spreading it thickly in slabs and broad strokes. It is as a colourist that Stern became a distinctive painter. The effervescent palette she adopted relating to the Madeira works is an indication of the glamour and romance inspired by the island and its people. In the
Cape Town context, Stern captured the Malay women with tonal contrasts of pink, red and orange which saturate the images with femininity and softness. In short, colour profoundly impacted on Stern. She uncovered colours that were specific to individual settings - from the earth colours of the Natal landscape to the eastern influences of Zanzibar. Stern gave full rein to her love of colour and lusciousness. Stern experimented extensively with the media of watercolours and gouache, which are worked fairly quickly and easily, allowing an immediate animated response to her pictorial impulse and desire. However, she did not always master this medium as skillfully as she did with oil. Her line, sagging downwards, sometimes comes across as lumpen and heavy. But Stern’s ability to draw is evidenced by literally thousands of pencil, pen and ball-point sketches that she employed as preparatory drafts for paintings. It is further manifest in the fully-fledged charcoal studies and the vast assembly of monotypes. Her charcoal drawings demonstrate her consummate skills as a draftswoman. They are not sketches or preparatory studies but were intended to be seen as compositions in their own right. Young Woman (1933) and Young Woman Dancing (1935) are just some of the charcoal drawings that show her penchant for female subjects, and her intuitive empathy for grace and beauty. Stern celebrated their beauty through sensuous depictions of curved lines, expressive marks and enhanced lips. In fact, she used a similar voluptuous format for the mouth and nose of most of her female models. None of these models engage directly with the viewer and most remain impassive under the artist’s study. Their grace was for her the symbolism of freedom that she sought because she felt that they were denied to her in her private life. Pencil and ballpoint sketches were frequently intended for her private use as memorandums that might serve as the basis for future compositions. They often depict the street life of Cape Town, the ethnic groups she encountered on her African journeys, fellow passengers she met on her cruises to Madeira and Europe, and the fishermen, sailors, peasants and flower-sellers she glimpsed in foreign ports. The skilled, fleeting renderings yield background information for the more completed works. Stern captured the swift moments through economic yet emotive use of line. In these sketches, such as Herdsman with Dog (1935), her language appears more impulsive and spontaneous, and she was able to convey place and atmosphere in a few deft strokes. Often executed with no thought of sale or exhibition, these casual jottings reveal Stern as blasé, liberated from the usual pressures of daily life. She understood how body language expresses personality, and her slight drawings convey the essentials of character. In many ways, Stern was a better draftswoman than painter. Mention should also be made of her small but expressive array of sculptures and of her pastime of making and decorating ceramic pots and plates, several of which appeared as objects in her still-life compositions. The ceramics comprised vases, large earthenware jars and jugs, decorated with female figures, and unglazed plates embellished with faces.
One would have thought that 1939 was an important date for Irma Stern because it was the year that World War Two broke out. After all, the year signified Stern severing ideological and cultural ties with Germany (she had already stopped speaking German in 1933). And so Stern’s African domicile assumed importance and she made Cape Town her sanctuary as the Nazis’ power in Germany reached its ascent and anti-Semitism intensified. But 1939 was significant also because it marked the beginning of the most masterful and successful decade for Stern, when she left for Zanzibar and stayed there for four months. She maintained that the Cape southeaster propelled her there: ‘Bored and lethargic, tired of the infernal wind, I was walking down Adderley Street one morning in 1938, remembering the stories told by our Arab old cook … when I was a child and he used to spend the time of the day reminiscing about his Island home …. I walked into a travel bureau and asked: ‘Can I motor to Zanzibar? (Spotlight: 15 March 1946). Stern found the route that eventually led to her mature voice in the next decade, when her art became imbued with the mysticism and nuanced tertiary colours of Africa. In the same year, Stern opened an exhibition of child art at Central Girls’ High school, where she had taught a few years previously and held a solo exhibition at the Sun Building in Cape Town.
1939 in the World 1 January 26 January 27 February 03 March 3 March 15 March 1 April 14 April 30 April 01 May 02 May 23 August August 25 03 September 08 October 02 December
The Hewlett-Packard Company is founded. Spanish Civil War: Spanish Nationalist troops, aided by Italy, take Barcelona. Sit-down strikes are outlawed by the Supreme Court of the United States. In Mumbai, Mohandas Gandhi begins to fast in protest of the autocratic rule in India. Timeless Test begins between England and South Africa in Durban, the longest game of cricket ever played. It was abandoned 12 days later, when the English team had to catch the last ferry home Nazi troops occupy the remaining part of Bohemia and Moravia; Czechoslovakia ceases to exist. The Spanish Civil War comes to an end when the last of the Republican forces surrender. John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath is first published. The 1939 New York World’s Fair opens. Batman, created by Bob Kane, makes his first appearance in a comic book. Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2130 consecutive Major League Baseball games played comes to an end. Germany and the Soviet Union sign a non-aggression treaty, the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact. In a secret addition to the pact, Baltic States, Finland and Poland are divided between the two nations. MGM’s classic musical film The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, is released in theatres everywhere. France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia declare war on Germany. Germany annexes Western Poland. La Guardia Airport opens for business in New York
1939 in South Africa 19 August - The Mixed Marriages Commission releases its report and recommends that a law be introduced that would make mixed marriages impossible and illicit miscegenation punishable. 2 September - James Hertzog puts his case to the National Assembly for South Africa to remain neutral in the Second World War against Jan Smuts who supports a Commonwealth alliance 4 September - Jan Smuts becomes the 4th Prime Minister of South Africa for the second time 5 September - The National Assembly votes on a motion whether or not to join the war and Jan Smuts wins by 13 votes 6 September - The Union of South Africa declares war on Germany
Acknowledgements Thanks to the Irma Stern Museum and Christopher Peter, Iziko South African National Gallery, George Reeves for assistance with the images and Hayden Proud. Bibliography 1. Arnold, M. A Feast for the Eye: Irma Stern. 1995. Fernwood Press: South Africa 2. Arnold, M. Women and Art in South Africa. 1996. David Philip Publishers (Pty): Southern Africa 3. Berman, E. Art and Artists of South Africa. 1983. A.A Balkema: CapeTown and Amsterdam 4. Berman, M. Remembering Irma. 2003. Double Storey Books: Cape Town 5. Catalogue. Irma Stern: Expressions of a Journey. Standard Bank Gallery, 2003 6. Dubow, N [ed]. Paradise: The Journal and Letters of Irma Stern [1917-1933]. 1991. Chameleon Press, Diep River 7. Dubow, N. Irma Stern. 1974. C. Struik Publishers: Cape Town and Johannesburg 8. South African National Library, Clippings books and personal papers 9. Wyman, M. Irma Stern: Envisioning the ‘Exotic’. Woman’s Art Journal. Vol.20, No.2 [Autumn 1999-Winter 2000]
Researched and written by Andrea Lewis
SPIER CONTEMPORARY 2010 OPENING NIGHT
The Spier Contemporary 2010 opening night was a highlight on the SA Arts Calendar, with over a thousand artists and arts professionals under one grand roof was quite a memorable event.
Africa Melane was MC for the evening
Andrew Boraine, Nike Romano, Tanner Methvin
Cape Town City Hall - Spier Contemporary Venue
Kurt Pio, Emma Arogundade, Sthabile Mlotshwa
Jay Pather and Mohau Modisakeng
Mavuso Mbutumba and Marcii Goosen
Ghaleb Cachalia, Samantha Oâ€™Keefe, Yolanda Methvin and Chiava Cachalia.
Berni Searle, Cathy Viscarde, Silvana Dantu and Arlene Viscardi
Jaheera Essop, Hussan Essop, Husien Essop and Tasneen Chothia
Ian Low, Storm Van Rensburg, Zubai Sader and Zayd Minty
Artist John Bauer hails in the new age of live
Fernando Daminquez, Andrew Ardignon, Dominique Endtohven and Julie-Anne Fergus
Prize winners and judges of the Spier Contentemporary 2010
The after party that went on until late
Part-time curator required The Labia Fort - Muizenberg
Built in 1929 to reflect the spirit of 18th century Venice, The Labia Fort has been lovingly restored to its original splendour by the family. It is due to re-open in May 2010 as one of Cape Townâ€™s most unique and exquisite venues, complete with contemporary art gallery and authentic Italian cafĂŠ. Experience in the S.A. art world essential and museum curatorship an advantage. Should be able to source interesting exhibitions for the gallery and guide groups through the existing Italian and South African art housed at the Fort. Salary negotiable. Please contact Antonia Labia directly on firstname.lastname@example.org for further details
Des Khourie Limited Edition series no 11
Stolen on 11/08/2009 in Primrose. We are asking for dealers and Art Galleries to keep an eye out Please contact Cindy on 011 873 7877
South African Art Times
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South African Art Times April 2010
Interview with Chris Swift Christopher Swift is rising from strength to strength in the Cape Town art scene; first winning the coveted Michaelis Prize at the end of last year, and then moving on to become one of the winners of Spier Contemporary 2010. SA Art Times spoke to this new, albeit reluctant art star about what his works on the show mean with specific relation to the City Hall exhibition space.
Chris Swift at The Spier Contemporary 2010 Awards 16 March 2010 Skype 16:30 Art Times (AT): Firstly congratulations on the award. It’s also good to see you’re taking some time off and drinking a beer… Chris Swift (CS): The fact I’m drinking a Black Label at 16:30 is very unusual, very Ed Young, but it’s sweltering here… AT: It’s allowed, don’t worry, particularly since you’re a big shot artist now… CS: (laughs)“Big shot artist”, no I don’t really subscribe to that, but the idea makes me smile… I’m more interested in arts as education, and education generally, that’s where I see my life going. AT: Ok, so to start with, could you tell us a bit about the two pieces on Spier Contemporary? CS: Well, for ‘Nelson’s Column’ I erected a 7m, 4 ton tower made from 216 sections of Robben Island fencing (one for each month Mandela spent on the island), found on an educational visit to Robben Island, outside the City Hall. In ‘Vidi, vici. vēni (I saw, I conquered, I came)’ I’ve made what is almost a giant Dream Catcher out of black condoms, which were part of an elaborate PR campaign to infect public opinion around the purchase of three German built submarines at
a cost of $594 million. Part of the arms deal arrangement involved the building of a condom manufacturing plant in the Eastern Cape. Eight years later and a lengthy corruption case and scandal continues unresolved and still there is no mention of the promised condom manufacturing plant. Ironically, the funds misappropriated here would have gone a long way to alleviate the effects of the AIDS pandemic, either by prevention through education or by treatment through medical and social assistance. The work also materially juxtaposes the led framed glass of the Dutch East India Company with its VOC emblem. By virtue of its placement it implicates a legacy of elitist misappropriations. AT: Both of these works were shown for your Graduate show, though the condom piece was installed completely differently and the column was much smaller, you also retitled the pieces; do you see them as the same works? C.S: I got used to changing the title of the work every time the space for the installation changed. With installation, I realize the space is an important element to the piece, either by informing it, or by the piece working off the space. AT: So the context informs the work to the extent that it is remade entirely? Re-conceived even… CS: Exactly, so erecting a spire (for Nelson’s Column) outside the City Hall, and being part of the gentrification process of the building, I got a different sense of the work. Plus it didn’t have to take its associations from the graduating body of work which was based largely on Greek mythology. AT: Ok, so, what does City Hall mean to you then, how does the context inform the work? CS: The history of the building was a special feature for me, partly because it represents both the grandeur and pride of a beautiful architectural marvel. On one level, I just appreciate the old way of making, the way things were made to last, not to economize; an unavoidable aspect of my art production. The way the entire building is made to last. You really have to look and investigate every nook of that space to
Aspire: 250 sections of discarded Robben Island maximum- security prison fencing, 400 picket fence slats, 800 cable ties. see how the architecture was treated with such thought and time and deliberation. Something we don’t have the time for these days. Its indicative of a lot of our current behavior, or, to be fair, the economy of our behaviour. AT: So, it’s the time, the effort, the labour that excites, form over function to an extent? CS: Yes, labour is a huge part of my work. AT: I think that’s one of the reasons it stands out amongst the contemporary art scene - the materiality, and the labour-intensiveness. CS: Not just in the difficultness or the intensity of labour, but the commentaries on labour practice and economies over time. Its as much my way of discovering the depths of these concepts as it is a practice. AT: And what about the histories of the building? CS: Well, I’m interested in the very same systems that created
infrastructure in this wonder ful country, but then also the culpa bility of that infrastructure. Historically, the architectural space is very interesting when you think of how buildings are used to create a sense of power, the White House, Kremlin and so on. So you have a city hall that has all the hallmarks of pride and projections of strength and, perhaps, power, but the fact that this magnificent building was built on the backs of a certain type of labour practice is also interesting for me, like the autobahns in Germany for instance or the Roman road network built by prisoners. The building is a symbol of both pride and culpability in its involvement in African wealth extraction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not jumping on the colonial guilt bandwagon - maybe another time- As in all of my work, I just create the questions around it - hoping it starts the process leading to answers, or a better way in the future…
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