“Take good care of it, it is my life,” said artist Charlotte Salomon about Life? or Theatre? which was also her Life’s Work

Pictures are all the work of Charlotte Salomon from Taschen’s  Life? or Theatre?

Charlotte SalomonDIANE DE BEER

Charlotte by David Foenkinos (Canongate) and Charlotte Salomon Life? Or Theatre? – Charlotte Salomon’s artistic feat under the Third Reich Charlotte Salomon Life? Or Theatre? – Charlotte Salomon’s artistic feat under the Third Reich (Taschen):

Charlotte Salomon is born into a family stricken by suicide and a country at war – but there is something very exceptional about her. She has a gift, a talent for painting. And she has a great love, for a brilliant, eccentric musician.

But just as she is coming into her own as an artist, death is coming to control her country. The Nazis have risen to power and, as a Jew in Berlin, her life is narrowing – she is kept from her art, torn from her love and her family and chased from her country. But still she is not safe, not from the madness that has haunted her family, or from the one gripping Europe…

Charlotte is a heart-breaking true story – inspiring, unflinching, awful, hopeful – of a life filled with curiosity, animated by genius and cut short by hatred. A beautifully, lucidly told memorial, it has become an international success.

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Inside cover of Life? or Theatre?

These are the words on the jacket of David Foenkinos’s Charlotte (Canongate).

I was given this book as a gift by an astute friend together with Taschen’s Charlotte Salomon Life? Or Theatre? – Charlotte Salomon’s artistic feat under the Third Reich which includes essays by Judith C.E. Belinfante and Evelyn Benesch as well as a selection of 450 gouaches.

Because I didn’t know the artist at all, I didn’t immediately connect the two books but soon discovered, the first, written almost in poetic prose –  like an epic poem – was inspired by Charlotte’s lightly fictionalised memoir consisting of hundreds of paintings, sketches, text and musical annotations created during the years she was in hiding.

Foekinos is an award-winning French novelist and screenwriter who won the Prix Renaudot and the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, and Charlotte has sold more than half a million copies in France and was translated into 19 languages.

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And they walked home together, absorbed in silent communication.

It is excellently translated from French into English by American Sam Taylor. So once you have read the intriguing story by the novelist who simultaneously with Charlotte’s life story shares his own tale of discovering the artist, you can follow that with the Taschen art collection which again delves into Charlotte’s life but this time with the paintings and illustrations in hand.

It is an extraordinary insight into an artist who before these two books, might not have been familiar to you.

Foenkinos, for example, only discovered her work in 2004 in a museum in Germany and this propelled him to tell her story. It’s difficult to imagine that the life you encounter was such a short one and in a time as a Jewess in Germany (1917 – 1943), there wasn’t much chance of her visibility as artist flourishing.

Executing her gouache series Life? Or Theatre? she pleaded with a friend to “take good care of it, it is my entire life.” Perhaps she had a premonition because a few months later, the 26-year-old was deported to Auschwitz where she was killed shortly after her arrival.

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Out there in the forest there he stands – there dwells many a beautiful king’s child – in the forest there we want to listen.

The work tells her life story with a ground-breaking narrative that spans her entire short life: her complicated family life coloured by the high incidence of female suicides; her youth in Berlin marked by die rise of the Nazis and the oppression that followed; her close relationship with singing teacher Alfred Wolfsohn; her exile in France where her masterwork was accomplished; as well as abuse suffered on different levels from different people.

All these are reflected in her personal story that she embellishes with pseudonyms and fantasies to hide the actual personae, but reading both books, the story is clear. It’s an astonishing insight into her inner world, into that time, the way people lived and were terrorised, the decisions you make under duress and without foresight of course. Now we know everything in full colour, but at the time, the citizens of Germany, especially those being persecuted, had no idea of the horrors lying in wait.

But what also makes this such an intriguing read is the passions of the artist when it comes to the people and her painting and how she told her personal story in a way that kept her sane and allowed her artistic expression to flower.

Illustrated diaries, art books, aren’t uncommon anymore but at that time, given her youth and her life, what she produced is astonishing and adds greatly to her story and her art – both in equal measure and with astounding strength.

In 1947, her parents discover her life project in the South of France. They decide to donate it to the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum) in Amsterdam in 1971. Throughout the years, parts of the work have been displayed in museums around the world, but many art lovers are still unaware of this artist and her body of unique and unusual art.

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…and died under the slowly dying flames of the blazing flag.

According to Wikipedia, in 1981 the Museum presented 250 scenes in narrative sequence, and critics began to comment on the work.  An exhibition was presented at the London Royal Academy in 1998  and was an unexpected sensation, helped by the publication of a complete catalogue. Part of her anonymity, they believe, is the result of Salomon’s work not appearing on the international art market, as the whole archive belongs to the protective Charlotte Salomon Foundation based at the Joods Historisch Museum. The art historian Griselda Pollock dedicated a chapter to Charlotte Salomon in her Virtual Feminist Museum, analysing her work in terms of contemporary art, Jewish history and cultural theory.

And most recently Charlotte Salomon: Life? or Theatre? was exhibited at the Joods Historisch Museum from October 2017 to March 2018.

With these two latest books, there’s a chance of a wider audience and perhaps a deeper understanding of her work. But more than anything, it is the excitement of discovering an artist with such a strong voice, a woman to boot, who tells her story in such an individual and inspiring fashion.

It’s not an uplifting story, but it is inspiring that she could find a way to express herself so magnificently and with such a unique voice in such dark times. And leave such an luminous legacy.

 

 

 

 

The House That Jack Built Celebrates the Life and Art of Local Artist Jack Lugg

house-that-jack-built-book-cover-high-res.jpgLocal artist Jack Lugg is being celebrated with a book launch and a retrospective exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum from May 7 until June 23. DIANE DE BEER investigates his life and work which is detailed in The House That Jack Built, an illustrated biography instigated by his daughter Pippa Lugg Verster:

Jack sculpting in the 70's at Tech
Jack sculpting in the 70’s at Tech

 

Checking my artistic circle, none of them was really familiar with the artist Jack Lugg, but if you should venture into academic and artist circles, the response would be totally different.

“I first heard of Jack Lugg in about 1965 while I was still a student at Selborne College. He was the best-known artist in East London and his art was totally different from the art I had grown up with…” writes celebrated artist Norman Catherine in the foreword of The House That Jack Built – Jack Lugg (Jack Lugg Art Gallery CC).

For many, says his daughter, Pippa Lugg, in her introduction, the name brings back memories of an influential mentor, or others who own his art are reminded of a devoted and passionate artist. “My father worked tirelessly: sketching, sculpting and painting over the course of seven decades.”

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Spirited Ride, Oil, 1993

He was the head of the of the department at the East London Technical College Art School for 35 years and it was her hope that this book (together with the exhibition in the Pretoria Art Museum) would be a testament to “his remarkable life, and to all that he built”.

She explains that the foundations for the book were laid by the artist himself, and his wife Rosemary. They planned to publish it to celebrate his 80th birthday but sadly it didn’t happen in time for his birthday or even before his death in 2013.

But things were set in motion and part of these was a blank sketchbook that his daughter gifted to him on his 78th birthday which became an integral part of the book. She explains: “The cover of the book was decorated with a collage of his paintings and sculptures and I titled it Jack Lugg’s Memoirs.”

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The Greedy Man, Oil on cloth/board, is one of a series of twelve different African Legends.

She wrote a note encouraging her artist dad to record his memories with the aim of including it in his book. His response: “If it ever happens.” Hers: “Not if but when.”

And she proved him wrong. When she was sorting through her parents’ vast collection, including 1 000 artworks, with her brother, the last box she unpacked was the small book which her father had created, and she describes as a gem. She believed he had given her a masterpiece handwriting his entire life story and illustrating every page. “It was the actual moment of conception of this publication,” she recalls.

Once she started gathering her thoughts and the people she wanted to include, she invited Kin Bentley, at the time sub editor at Port Elizabeth’s The Herald. She describes him as an experienced art critic and also a past student of her father. “He paints a picture of a man whom he knew as an inspiring mentor and teacher.”

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Each tells the other, Oil on board, 1993, is the work in mind to use for the marketing of the Pretoria Exhibition next year.

And what makes the essay special to her as the daughter is that in quoting for her dad’s memoirs, Kin has allowed the artist to tell his own story. “The result is a sensitive and personal account.”

Complementing this work, Barry Gibb, an Eastern Cape art historian who taught Lugg in the ‘50s drew on his vast art historical knowledge to present an insightful and layered analysis of the artist’s paintings and sculptures.

Because these two writers knew the artist, they brought a wealth of knowledge and perspective but, writes Lugg Verster, the book is about the artist and his extraordinary body of art.  For her it is important that “the artworks take centre stage” and together with the current exhibition, they have published many works which have never been seen in public before.

Thus, The Visual Essay is dedicated to illustrating his creativity and includes prints, sketches and paintings. The idea was to allow readers to witness the development of the artist and his particular journey.

“Short textual inserts highlight important life events, themes and anecdotes,” she notes. It follows his work through the decades from 1938 when he was a teenager to 2013, the year of his death.

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Taxi Rank, Oil on board, 2007

 

It’s quite extraordinary to be introduced to an artist in this way, if indeed that is the case as it was for me, and to have an accompanying exhibition showing a comprehensive collection of his work.

And covering a life and a prolific one at that, it is fascinating to see the way the artist has developed, where he has been influenced by his time or artists living in specific eras.

Initially, the Jack Lugg Art Gallery was based in Knysna for 18 years. Then it continued to operate in Plettenberg Bay through the gallery website and studio appointments until the author’s death in 2013. Now run by his children, the Jack Lugg Art Gallery sells artworks through the website and arranges private viewings by appointment in Port Elizabeth. The works on show range from Lugg’s teens in Pretoria where he studied under Walter Battiss, to his service in World War 2, through his studies in Durban where he won the Emma Smith scholarship, to Camberwell, London and Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, where he studied under Matisse.

Perusing the gallery website or his book, Lugg had a deep connection with the landscape, animals, and people of Africa. He held his first exhibition at 17 and continued to exhibit in many solo and group exhibitions throughout his expansive career. His art can be found in significant public and private art collections around the world and this current Pretoria Art Museum exhibition, which runs until June 23 in the South Gallery.

The first iteration of this current exhibition and launch of The House That Jack Built was held at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth in February last year and was opened by Dirk Oegema, Director of the Pretoria Art Museum. An East London exhibition and launch took place at the Ann Bryant Art Gallery in April 2018 and was opened by Marlene Neumann, South African Master Fine Art Photographer.

Now Gauteng can catch a glimpse of this Eastern Cape painter/sculptor who should be better known and celebrated and whose family is determined to nourish and nurture his legacy.

*The exhibition will be opened on Tuesday (May 7) at 6.30 for 7pm by Prof Ora Joubert.

 

Women Capture their Stories with Needle and Thread

Bertha Rengae, Group coordinator of Group 3 of the women of the Mapula Embroidery Trust
Bertha Rengae, Group coordinator of Group 3 of the women of the Mapula Embroidery Trust

A fundraiser for a group of Rwandan embroiderers is being held at the end of the month in Pretoria following in the footsthe establishment of a unique embroidery and empowerment project in the Winterveld:

 

DIANE DE BEER

 

A remarkable story has emerged from one of South Africa’s most dire areas, the Winterveld, where a group of women were trained in the early ‘90s by members of the Soroptimist International Pretoria Club for an income-generating, empowerment project.

The Sisters of Mercy provided a classroom and an embroidery project for the women of Mapula which started initially with 14 women, evolving through the years and growing to include 150 women, guided and supported by experienced individuals.

In a unique storytelling fashion, with needle and thread, these women have been sharing their stories over the past 26 years. And it is often these personal remembrances capturing our past from a unique vantage point that has captured the imagination internationally. Over the years, the high levels of technical and visual artistry with social and historical commentary have resulted in recognised works of art.

Their ideas are generated from lived realities, local magazines, newspapers, internet and television. Artists in the project draw the images while others translate them into brightly embroidered wall hangings, cushion covers, place-mats and bags, all represented in Mapula Embroideries.

Women from the Mapula Embroidery Trust in the Winterveld
Women from the Mapula Embroidery Trust in the Winterveld

These have been exhibited widely, both in South Africa but also internationally, all over the USA and Europe. Mapula embroideries and artists feature in more than 12 art publications and they have won several awards.

Women in the Mapula Group won the FNB Vita Craft Now Gold award for example; an order for 52 items for the Oprah Winfrey Academy for Girls was executed; and many different art museums across the world feature their work and celebrate the Mapula women and they are included in many private collections.

A well-researched book Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld by Prof Brenda Schmahmann was published in 2006 by David Krut Publishing.

The project now consists of three groups: two groups are situated in the Winterveld, North West of Pretoria, and one in Hammanskraal. The production of the goods is managed by the embroiderers themselves and since 2016, the Mapula Embroidery Trust with NPO status was established.

One of the members, Pinky Resenga testifies that the project saved her from a life of drinking and living on the streets. “With the income I could extend my mother’s house. After helping her I hope to build my own four rooms for myself and my children.”

The income generated through the Mapula embroidery project has assisted women over the years to clothe, feed and educate their children. Today, 28 years later, the Mapula Embroidery Project with its strong foundations is well established.

Women from the Kibeho Embroidery project
Women from the Kibeho Embroidery project

A few years ago, after visiting the Mapula Project, Netty Butera, the wife of the Rwandan High Commissioner to SA (after visiting the Mapula Project), approached the Soroptimists who initiated Mapula to start a similar project in her country with the initial training of 12 women.

Again it was to add value and the possibility of a regular income to extremely vulnerable women in the south of Rwanda at a place called Kibeho, close to the Burundi border. It is regarded as a holy place because in 1981 it is believed the Virgin Mary appeared to some teenagers. It marked the rise of the remote Kibeho to a spiritual hub on the global arena. Many pilgrims visit annually and if the women instead of begging could generate an income from the sale of an embroidery project, it would improve their self-esteem and offer their children a different future.

Following much planning, three women, Rosina Maepa and Dorah Hlongwane from the Mapula Embroidery Project and Janetje van der Merwe from Soroptimist International Pretoria left for Rwanda with suitcases packed with embroidery cotton, fabric, a brand-new sewing machine, two steam irons, needles and scissors – all to get the project started in a new country.

Local contacts, liaisons as well as facilitators were arranged to keep the process flowing and in the past few years, another training trip for a further 19 women was included which brings the total number of women who are part of the project to 31. Marketing of the products is still a huge problem and something they hope to improve dramatically so that those involved benefit to the maximum.

Rwandan embroideries
Rwandan embroideries

With this as the focus, a fundraising afternoon of socialising and sharing will be held at the residence of the Rwandan High Commissioner in Pretoria on March 31. It will start with the best Rwandan coffee and tea, followed by an opportunity to buy some of the unique Holy Land Kibeho Embroideries, listen to an introduction of Rwanda and an illustrated talk on the empowerment of women in that area through the embroidery project.

A Rwandan dinner with South African wines will be served after the presentation giving those attending the chance to experience another African cuisine. Tickets for the event are R200 per person and bookings can be made at 083 447 7909/082 903 1178/073 564 8215.

South Africa is a country that makes it easy for individuals to reach out. Some wonder if their efforts make a difference, but when one witnesses a project like Mapula and how the lives of people are changed – even across borders – it shows how even a little assistance can go a long way.

 

 

Books & Bones & Other Things Attempts to Unravel The Secrets and Lies of Old

An art exhibition is often exciting not only because of the creativity but also the idea that holds the project. Jan Coetzee’s Books & Bones & other things is an example of just that kind of imagination:

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DIANE DE BEER

 

From the beginning of time, individuals have at some stage of their lives questioned the meaning of life in some way.

It makes sense that a man who has spent his whole working life in academia, studying and researching, would use these tools to question his own life – and thus began what has turned into an exhibition, Books & Bones & other things, which Mark Read of Everard Read Gallery invited academic/artist Prof Jan Coetzee to present for the month of February in CIRCA.

Jan Coetzee started his career at the University of South Africa; later became Professor of Sociology at the University of the (Orange) Free State (1979‑1986); and then moved to Rhodes University (1987‑2010) as Professor and Head of Department. In 2011 he returned to the University of the Free State as Senior Professor of Sociology where he initiated and directs the programme: The narrative study of lives.

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Jan K Coetzee

Within this research programme, he became interested in books as documents of life. “Throughout my life I’ve always been attracted to old texts – maybe not surprising given the fact that I did classical Greek and Sociology as majors for a BA. Together with my interest in narratives, I’ve also been playing around for years with sculpting,” he explains.

In short, he says, he put together almost 60 installations of “bookworks” consisting of old texts combined with found and sculpted objects. Most of these are enclosed in acrylic museum cases. “The object of this whole exercise is to attempt a reading of these aesthetically pleasing old texts – all of them old and many of them written in closed languages such as Latin, old German, old Slavic, etc.

“The installations attempt to unwrap/open the meaning of this collection of old texts: to try to hear what they are telling us today.”

As an academic he has thoroughly explained this complicated yet fascinating exhibition which would appeal to both scholars and the lay public.

“From the very beginning, humans have been living in storytelling societies. The earliest recordings of our stories are found in art and artefacts, and later on, in documents — the predecessors of what we call ’books‘.”

 Books & Bones & Other Things is thus a dialogue with a collection of books serendipitously encountered across Europe and South Africa. What started as a collection developed into a project to make the author’s own life, as well as life in general, more intelligible to himself and to others, he believes – and hopes.

The books in the collection are old texts which have considerable aesthetic appeal which originated from and bear witness to the actions, intentions, motivations, joys and hopes, as well as the fears and sufferings of human beings.

Each text, he says, narrates a story. But as his process developed, he realised that our ability to hear what they are trying to say is undermined: most are written in old, inaccessible languages which meant that Coetzee could not merely present these books as is.

 

And this is where interpretation came into play. He needed to find a way to retell the stories, to break them open and even subvert traditional narrative conventions by presenting them in a way that conjures up new stories in his mind and – hopefully – the minds of his ‘readers’.

This is when he began critically inquiring into the aims, context, and content of these books by systematically engaging with the title pages of the texts.

“Only the title pages,” he underlines. It meant that without studying the rest of the texts and without examining the meaning of the inside pages, he set out re-imagining the texts by recalling stories from his own life and readings.

He also initiated conversations between the different books so that the individual stories would resound more emphatically.

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Imperial Principal

The bookworks, he says, explore the historical development of society and its structures — religion, colonialism, imperialism, racism, language, identity and time — all steeped in Western thought and tradition. “This I relate to the books themselves, and to the sculptures and the religious and cultural artefacts that accompany them.”

Coming to terms with yet another phenomenon of our time, an acknowledgement that in these European texts the voices of indigenous peoples are silent and their values, laws, and cosmologies — their very lives — are largely discounted.  He emphasises this in the use of sculls and chains for example. “What survives all individual authors, all human remembering and forgetting, I show in prehistoric fossils — a knowledge in the bones.”

He compares the results to a small private library in an ordinary family home which reflects something of the family. This collection of documents he feels, uncovers and reveals something of his own roots as it resonates with wider social, cultural, and historical refrains.

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Dominium and Control

“I cannot think of a more accomplished scholar of stories, or the narrative study of lives, than Jan Coetzee who in this ground-breaking book demands a reckoning with all those stories, of ourselves and others entangled in this post-1994 dance. This attempt at excavating the ‘knowledge in the bones’ is truly an exceptional piece of scholarship by Coetzee and an outstanding set of authors and should be required reading not only for sociologists but story-tellers and -listeners across the disciplines. It is the curriculum we desperately need.”

This is the recommendation of Jonathan Jansen, former Rector and Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Free State of Coetzee’s book which is at the centre of this exhibition.

The exhibition will end on February 28 with an endowment auction of these bookworks – conducted by Strauss and Co – the proceeds going to Kim Berman’s Artist Proof Studio and William Kentridge’s Centre for the Less Good Idea. The exhibition/auction consists of the almost 60 bookworks/installations that form the basis of a book Books & Bones & Other Things published by Sun Press in 2018.

 

Magically Mesmerising Japanese Islands are Packed with Art and Architecture

In the next two years, Japan will be highlighted on the travel itinerary as they host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games. Travelling that far it’s worth checking into some of their magnificence.

 

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DIANE DE BEER

 

If your travels are driven and dominated by art and architecture, Japan’s art islands seem designed specially for your desires – and then they deliver so much more.

Hearing about them the first time, they sounded magical, almost unreal – islands filled with art – which I couldn’t believe I had never heard about.

Only once you journey there, the fantasy and fun of it all materialises majestically. The island landscape that’s the backdrop for this art-inspired world often determines the art you will be viewing in what should be an extended trip – as many days as you possibly can pack in.

seascape from naoshima
Seascape from Naoshima

Google was my first port of call when starting my research. And coming back following the visit, returning to that information, much of it only makes sense once you’ve been.

When your research says that you need at least three days, even that isn’t quite enough, but it will be worth your while. Some 3 000 islands are dotted in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, which separates Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, three of the four main islands of Japan. Three of these – Naoshimo, Teshima and Inujima –  form the main part of what is described as Japan’s art islands but there are more and they’re multiplying as islanders understand what it can mean for the future of a particular island.

This unique art project began in 1987, when a businessman, Soichiro Fukutake, the chairman of Fukutake Publishing (now known as the Benesse Holdings, Inc.), bought the south side of Naoshima. He then enlisted Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to design his dream and most of the architecture you visit on this main island, all the established museums (and the hotels) are the work of Ando. If you haven’t heard of him before, you will appreciate his architecture once you witness his work. He has also designed, for example, a museum to form part of the cultural precinct planned for Abu Dhabi with the Louvre the first finished project.

an example of tadao ando's architecture
An example of Tadao Ando’s extraordinary architecture on Naoshima.

One of the strongest visual pleasures of Naoshima is that it is one architect and his unique architectural vision that determines the impact. He sets the tone, not only of the museums on the main island, but also of the art.

When you embark at your port of call, it’s all sea, sky and islands with boats of all sizes as far as the eye can see.  And once on the ferry, the landscape, dominated by shades of blue, is completely enveloping and an inviting sign of the excitement that awaits. As you enter the port at Naoshima, one of the famous dotted pumpkins, this one in bright red, of one of Japan’s most prolific artists, Yayoi Kusama, is the first thing that greets you. You know you have arrived.

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Shrine’s sparkling glass stairway

First it’s on a bus (or a bicycle, motored for the hilly countryside) and you’re off to see either the mainstay of the island, the Benesse Museum complex which is furthest from the port, or, on the way there, the Art House project which includes the architect’s own house with his architectural plans explaining his art island mission and his design ethos. We started off there, but it would probably have made more sense once we had seen all his buildings even if they speak with great clarity for themselves.

Six other buildings have been used to create special artworks which include anything from an artist playing with light in almost fairground fashion with extraordinary results, an outside shrine with a spellbinding glass stairway, to a mesmerising pool of darkness, which takes viewers on a specific journey.

Even though I would leave the Ando house till later, the rest of the project is a great introduction, playful and out of the box, while giving individual artists and their unique voice a chance to shine. This is where one could probably also find accommodation (but more about this later).

Then it’s on to the three major museums as well as the outdoor sculptures on the main Benusse site. It’s a fusion of architecture and nature with the island and the surrounding backdrop the perfect setting for Fukutake’s expansive dreams. Importantly, the Ando environment-sensitive designs are part of the landscape as he plays with light and hidden delights in a way that fashions and informs his designs.

His buildings are all different yet have a similar sensibility. His building blocks are concrete with natural light the premiere design feature to show the art in a way never seen. This is especially true of Monet’s Water Lilies, which are given a fresh perspective.

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The entrance to Tadao Ando’s Lee Ufan Museum displays all his design strengths

From the detail of the floors in the passages and specific rooms and even the toilets (or, as some would say, especially the toilets!), every detail is put out there, full tilt. The Chichu Art Museum, for example, is built like a bunker, all underground, but with shafts of light encouraged and enticed to play with the space and the art.

The art includes many familiar names but there’s much to discover and learn, for example, the Lee Ufan Museum is dedicated to this octogenarian Korean artist quite spectacularly. And in especially the Chichu and the Lee Ufan museums, there are only a few rooms with minimal art displayed in a fashion that grabs both your attention and your soul. You are gifted time to appreciate each piece and to absorb the impact. It’s the the best way to view art.

lee ufan's art outside the museum
Korean artist Lee Ufan’s art outside the Museum

The outside sculptures have similar impact. Pieces speak to one another unexpectedly, and others simply because of their placement, sometimes like driftwood on a beach, have a special charm. Because of these outside pieces and the museums which are in walking distance, you engage with nature as much as with the art and the day strikes a particularly balanced note without you even trying.

We were there for two days, thinking we could do three islands, but in the end, only managed the one. It was one of the most unusual art excursions of my life and one I could easily repeat – often. But it takes careful planning, thoughtfulness about where you want to stay, on or off the islands with the ferry which is a joyous ride but takes time depending on the port you choose. Probably the best, if you can afford it, is the Benesse Hotel on Naoshima Island which is part of the museum complex and allows you to see the art in  a way that is completely deluxe – early in the morning and late at night.

You can travel from either Tokyo or Kyoto to Okyama and then one of the ports, either Uno or Takashima, both of which have ferries that travel to and from the three islands daily.

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Art is a way of life on Naoshima

Take note though that it isn’t as easy as jumping on and off a ferry as they’re scheduled very specifically and it’s tough to squeeze in more than one island on a day. If you make the train journey as we did from Kyoto (two hours), once passing through Okyama to Takamatsu, you’re traveling surrounded by the sea – seemingly everywhere – over expansive bridges and this is the beginning of the discovery of the breathtaking backdrop for the next few days.

It’s a fairy tale journey for art and nature lovers.

 

 

 

Lightness of Being at Louvre Abu Dhabi

Pictures: Diane de Beer

Louvre exterior
The magical play of lightness at the Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi celebrates its one-year anniversary this month (November 8). On a flight to Japan recently DIANE DE BEER decided to stop over for a little more than 12 hours to see not only the spectacular art collection but also what has already become yet another iconic museum designed by one of the architecture’s superstars, Jean Nouvel:

Flying with a stopover in Abu Dhabi on a recent trip to Japan, it was the ideal time to try to see one of the world’s finest new museums, the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Depending on your flight times, ours landed at 5.55am in the morning and there was a flight to Japan that night at 10 pm, it couldn’t be more perfect.

A visit to the EAU Embassy in Pretoria and their visa office confirmed that a visa would cost R800 per person (with no special concessions for museum visits and the like) and that there was ample transport to and from the airport to the museum and back.

In fact, if you wanted to, you could also pay a visit to other attractions including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque but on this first-time visit, my focus was very specific. It would mean a break and respite on a too long flight with the opportunity of an amazing art foray, not something I had imagined would be possible.

And then I discovered it was – quite easily. It’s not a cheap stopover for those of us on a budget but it’s worth the money and time with the museum and its art, food for both spirit and soul. On the way there in one of the airport’s black official taxis (a cost of approx. R250 more or less, either way) you get some insight of what this pleasure world is all about as you pass Ferrari World as well as the Formula 1 Circuit and Warner Bros Theme Park which also opened earlier this year.

Louvre under the dome (002)
A play of light and people under the magnificent dome.

Many would have seen images of Nouvel’s Louvre building, which seems as if it is floating in the sea with a dome and its “rain of light” created by a complex geometric pattern of stars, but nothing prepares you for the experience. On a visit to Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, it was all about the architecture and this was almost what I was expecting with this Louvre in the Arab world. But, it is something completely different.

Expectations are high as you arrive but with the Bilbao museum, it is the structure in its completeness that overwhelms you from beginning to end – magically so. With the Louvre, almost blindingly white in the blue seas and skies of Abu Dhabi, the full scale is impossible to see as you arrive. You immediately get the design, the water and the cobalt blue sky but the full impact comes much later – like a gift that reveals itself along the way – little by little until finally it takes your breath away.

It’s as if the architect captures the mystery which seems so much part of the Arabic psyche. As you start walking through the galleries, Nouvel has placed windows which all differ architecturally and show different aspects and angles of the museum – almost like landscape art in constant motion.

As you round a corner or pass from one room to another, it isn’t until you walk into the domed courtyard with all its different outlets onto the sea that the spectacular play of light and the richness of the reward hits you. Nothing else really matters, even if all the heat seems to have gathered under the dome – and I still don’t know if we were particularly sensitive or whether its an issue that needs to be addressed. We certainly could have done with those cooling water mist systems so popular locally at that point.  Yet nothing detracts from the spectacle or the dramatic effect of finally walking into this imaginative play of light.

All of this is a majestic work of art, but then, so is the collection of art inside the different rooms and galleries. What makes it so fascinating is the breadth of the exhibitions and the way Western, Arabic and Asian art come together in such unique fashion. This is about viewing different masters from different parts of the world and how they made art in the past and today, who influences whom and what they have to say about their world.

We often speak about the usual suspects in the art world locally and that can also be said of Western art, and this is what makes this such an enriching experience and worth witnessing. It’s not that we don’t see these types of art in other museums, it’s the coming together that makes the difference especially in our diverse world today. Bring it on, lets share and grow with the diversity and difference.

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The magnificence of the Louvre Abu Dhabi dome with its play of light.

Louvre Abu Dhabi has announced a full season of programming for the 2018-2019 season under the theme World of Exchanges.

International exhibitions will include Japanese Connections: The Birth of Modern Décor (until 24 November 2018), which explores links between Japanese aesthetics and modern French decorative arts; Roads of Arabia (until 16 February 2019), the acclaimed touring exhibition exploring the archaeological and cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula; Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age: The Leiden Collection and the musée du Louvre (14 February – 14 May 2019) presenting 17th century masterpieces by Rembrandt and artists of his time; and Opening the Album of the World (25 April – 30 July 2019) in collaboration with Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, tracing early photographic methods from around the globe. The Children’s Museum – also part of the premises – has opened its second exhibition, which looks at real and imaginary animals throughout art history.

Louvre Rain of Light
Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ‘rain of light’ © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography: Mohamed Somji

The cost of a ticket is approximately (depending on the exchange rate), R230 per person and if you want an audio guide, that will be another R80 but I felt the information on the work all around the museum was more than adequate and the guide for me personally, removed me rather than brought me closer to the work. So altogether, stopping over, the visa (R800) and the transport (R500) would cost in the region of R2 700 for two people. That doesn’t include any refreshments and you do need some, not at the museum for those on budget but you could indulge in an Abu Dhabi meal if food is a passion and then do some more investigating of the city.

Hotels, especially luxury ones, are also plentiful and to make the excursion more meaningful you could stay over, take a trip to the old city of Dubai (which is about 75 minutes away by car), but this would all take more money and time.

For me, for now, the exceptional art and exquisite building was more than enough and something I wanted to savour. And in the future, there are plans to further expand the galleries to include a Guggenheim and more.

I can’t wait.

Sasol’s New Signatures 2018 is about Mapping Time and Personal Stories

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From left: Megan Serfontein, Jessica Kapp, Kelly Crouse, Pierre le Riche, Debbie Fan, Peter Campbell, Sasol New Signatures Chairperson, Prof Pieter Binsbergen, and Mulatedzi Simon Moshapo.

DIANE DE BEER

The way people use art to share their personal stories and speak their mind is what makes it such a rare and valuable commodity. Each year when the New Signature winners are announced, and the exhibition opens at the Pretoria Art Museum in Arcadia, the work captures a specific zeitgeist.

Stellenbosch-based artist, Jessica Storm Kapp, 22, the winner of the 2018 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition won the coveted award for her rammed earth columns and embedded object installation piece titled Mapping Time.

Pierre le Riche with Ap(peal) 1 & Ap(peal) 11
Winner Jessica Kapp with Mapping Time.

Personal stories with a universal message was this year’s focus with Kapp’s work following and thus the result of the disastrous Knysna fires. Currently she is studying in Stellenbosch and with the disaster she felt cut off from her home. But on her return, she knew she had to do something with the emotional impact and the effect of the disaster on her personally. “I knew I had to capture the presence of time,” she says as she started collecting soil, charred objects and other traces of the fire which all found their way into the winning work.

The artwork investigates whether fine art can evoke multisensory experiences of home using retrieved objects and materials. These have value both because of the site from which they were taken as well as their intrinsic value as traces of a destroyed dwelling. “It’s only a year on and already there’s hardly a trace of the fire left,” she says. This was her attempt to illustrate concepts such as loss, trace, place attachment and reflection.

She is currently completing her undergraduate degree in Fine Art at Stellenbosch University. Through various print making techniques, photography, sculpture and installation, she aims to create immersive moments in which viewers can experience the essence of a place through their multiple senses.

As the winner of Sasol New Signatures, she received a cash prize of R100 000 and the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2019, which will mark Sasol’s 30th year sponsoring South Africa’s longest running art competition.

Contextualising the winning work, the Sasol New Signatures Chairperson, Prof Pieter Binsbergen, said: “Regarding the pressing issues of land, including pre-, post-, and de-colonial struggles, the work’s ability to ambiguously navigate through and around these sensitive issues makes it worthy of being the winning artwork”.

Peter Campbell with Kaisen in 2nd place
Peter Campbell with Kaisen in 2nd place

In second place, Cape Town artist Peter Mikael Campbell’s work in pencil titled, Kaisen, which means, “change for better” in Japanese, won him R25 000. “It’s about creating beauty,” he says about his art arguing that if you create and make people aware of something beautiful, it will make them more aware of the world around them – and thus the people. “It’s a belief in the value of art,” he explains with a belief that it can contribute to a better world.

For the five merit winners, the personal all came into play in their work.

Kelly Crouse with Medication
Kelly Crouse with Medication : C₂₃H₂₇N₃O₇.

For Port Elizabeth’s Kelly Crouse with Medication: C₂₃H₂₇N₃O₇, it is about a skin disorder she had as a child and the crippling effects it had on her life. “We all have our own personal flaws,” she explains, and because hers is something that she won’t ever be free of because it is part of her DNA, she wanted to investigate how it shaped her life.

Debbie Fan with Cheque or Savings
Debbie Fan with Cheque or Savings?

Also from Port Elizabeth, Debbie Fann used their family business to explore her identity. Her parents own a Chinese restaurant where she waitressed for a while. In her work Cheque or Savings?

She uses something that is easily discarded, a restaurant bill, to tell her story. On the one side of the work is a simple picture of an actual bill and on the other, there’s one she plays with in quite light-hearted fashion. “I use parody for example and change certain dishes like deepfried rice to dogfried or that oft used phrase, Made in China. But she’s also commenting on the customers, our throwaway society, commercialism and simply being Chinese and how she is perceived in this country.

Megan Serfontein with Untitled
Megan Serfontein with Untitled, a work that deals with technology.

Sticking to our current world and the way it operates, Megan Serfontein, another University of Stellenbosch student uses technology to make a point. She wrote a programme to illustrate how we all react differently when we know we’re being watched or filmed for example. Her work which is untitled is a monitor which changes as people stand in front of it. In effect you as the viewer becomes the art. It’s fun but also clever and especially in our technological world, to use something that changes what the camera sees, sharply makes her point.

Pierre le Riche with Ap(peal) 1 & Ap(peal) 11
Pierre le Riche with Ap(peal) 1 & Ap(peal) 11.

Cape Town’s Pierre Henri Le Riche’s porcelain slave bells titled Ap(peal) I & Ap(peal) II can be viewed as museum relics with a play on history, stories that are told by the victors and thus shaping a particular story telling it as it desires to be told.

Mulatedzi Moshapo with The leader shall govern
Mulatedzi Moshapo with The leader shall govern.

With his striking wood sculpture titled The leader shall govern, Mulatedzi Moshapo from Polokwane explains that every work has its own story to tell and his medium isn’t the only determining factor, the people he features are also showing their world and their unhappiness.

Each Merit Award winner received a R10 000 cash prize.

2017 Winner Lebohang Kganye with Lighthouse Keeper
2017 Winner Lebohang Kganye with Mohlokomedi wa Tora (Lighthouse Keeper).

Finally, this is also where the previous year’s winner is given a chance to show their progress of the past year. Winner of 2017, Lebohang Kganye’s first solo exhibition, Mohlokomedi wa Tora (Lighthouse Keeper), runs in conjunction with the 2018 Sasol New Signatures exhibition until October 7 at the Pretoria Art Museum. “It’s an ongoing conversation with my grandmother,” she notes as she keeps on talking in a way that is evolving but all about her family and their stories. It is cramped in its current space, not quite allowing the work to breathe as expansively as it should.

The rest of the exhibition features the 2018 winner, runner up and five merit award winners as well as 87 finalists, all of whom are included in the acclaimed competition catalogue available at the museum.

Charlotte Mokoena, Sasol Executive Vice President for Human Resources and Corporate Affairs urged the artists to continue being fearless in their artistry, challenging society to evaluate the lenses through which it views the world. “It is by doing so that you unconsciously give others the permission to be boundless in their pursuit of their happiness and purpose. Be limitless,” she urged.

 

Pretoria Art Museum times:

Tuesday to Sunday:  10:00 to 17:00 (Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays)

Pretoria Art Museum: Corner Francis Baard and Wessels St, Arcadia Park

 

Florence is Theatre of our Time

Pictures: GREG HOMANN

Leila Henriques with Jozi as backdrop

DIANE DE BEER

FLORENCE

PLAYWRIGHT: Myer Taub

DIRECTOR: Greg Homann

PERFORMER: Leila Henriques

LIGHTING DESIGN: Nomvula Molepo

COSTUME DESIGN: Karabo Legoabe and Nthabiseng Malaka

SET DESIGN: Richard Forbes

SOUND DESIGN: Ntuthuko Mbuyazi

VENUE: Barney Simon at the Market Theatre in Newtown

DATES: Until August 26

 

It is the eccentricity of the script, the execution and the performance that all come together in almost explosive manner and holds you (gently) by the throat throughout.

It’s not an easy one, so concentration and focus is necessary but once you slip into this world, it’s an intriguing and intense encounter. First off, the playwright had an obsession and used this (over a few years) cunningly, to create a play that taps into a zeitgeist of many. He deals with everything from colonialism (not easy for a white male to do smartly) to gender especially that of women (another stumbling block he navigates), and the way art was dealt with then – but perhaps more importantly – now. He moves from the safety issues, fences only the physical barriers, to a more problematic area of engaging and appreciating the energy and enlightenment art holds.

Then the director stepped in and working with Taub on the final draft found a way to unfold the Florence story on stage most enticingly while engaging with a set designer who best explored the visual key to this extraordinary work.

Leila Henriques as the actress
Leila Henriques as the actress

Henriques who has been testing the waters these past few years under the guidance of smart theatre makers including Sue Pam Grant and Sylvaine Strike, blossoms and bullies in this double role of Florence Phillips, the woman who founded the Johannesburg Art Gallery (while also raising a few children, setting up a handful of homes for her mining magnate husband and on the side, introducing jersey cows to the Cape!) as well as an actress who is unwilling but considering a portrayal of Florence. Her test is to navigate these two landscapes as if they are linear – the one at the turn of the last century while the other stands strong in the chaotic contemporary era.

It’s heady stuff which has been cleverly complicated by a brilliant set that both leads you into the story but also obscures the actress as she tries to fight her way through her characters and the story she is untangling. It can be described as a messy yet magnificent web, this world and the play that tries to capture different timelines, fragmented and fragile, yet allowing us to grab on and follow the guidance of the performer. All of that contributes to a compelling theatrical experience.

It doesn’t really matter where and when you access what they have to say as long as you participate in the work. Listen carefully and especially cling on to the Henriques performance as she steps in and out of characters, doesn’t really matter who or what she is, but how she is expressing herself about a world that in all respects is often closed to her. Even when she thinks she finds love, it isn’t meant to be. But she battles on because that is what is required to get her way. Softly-softly doesn’t make it here.

Leila Henriques as Florence

That’s probably why Florence, achieving what she did, is described as a formidable and fierce character. She was determined to fight her way through and in the play, she grabs that fence, sticks her head through to catch the light and speaks her mind. That’s just who she was and who you had to be in a world that wanted to decide who and what you should be. But just the list of what she achieved and how she travelled in a time of turmoil, is evidence of her power.

Henriques has similar physical presence and power. She will not be dwarfed by either the physical fence or any barriers thrown at her. She stands strong – both as actress and in performance. It’s glorious to behold. And when it all comes together, from the stunning lighting and atmospheric sound to the vision of the three artists involved, it’s truly theatre of our time – uniquely original.

The Impact of Hannelie Coetzee’s Art Resonates in Jozi Buildings and Skylines

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First sight of the Ndzundza/Nzunza Portrait by Hannelie Coetzee On Woman’s Day. Picture City Property

DIANE DE BEER

To have two major artworks unveiled in a week in a world city is quite extraordinary and contemporary African artist Hannelie Coetzee is excited that her adopted and much-loved city Johannesburg is recognising the value of public art.

And she likes to make her mark – spectacularly.

The most visible is the recently unveiled (on Woman’s Day on Thursday August 9) The Ndzundza/Nzunza Portrait (the alternative spelling is inclusive of differing views from the community) commissioned by City Property bringing her historic hair-inspired 10-storey South African artwork to 28 Melle Street in Braamfontein. “I’m grateful to people in the property market who have become patrons of the arts,” she says.

All her projects start with research and she was thrilled that this one came at a time at the end of the year when the building world comes to a standstill, giving her some time to play around with what she wanted to do on such a huge scale. She started scratching around in the area and wider to discover what had happened in this neck of the woods in the past, her richest vein of source material.

When reading what she says about herself on her website, Coetzee explains that she questions the purpose of art as a mere commentary on societal ills and prefers using art to participate in life, solving problems, connecting people and igniting dialogues.

When you talk to her, she describes her modus operandi as partnership orientated as she teams up with either scientists or architects or anyone in a specific field that might help with her enquiries, but then her own personal narrative also filters through the artworks on a specific level.

Having scratched around in her own family history a while back to find her own place in the world and where she was heading, she realised that the Ndzundza/Nzunza Ndebele that she was featuring in this work lived in the Highveld at the same time that the first Coetzee arrived in the Cape – navigating origins and cultures along the way.

But to get to the heart and soul of creating the work, she discovered a young architect, Ndzundza/Nzunza Portrait, who thinks and works differently especially with cities and her ideas around that. “It’s all about making cities healthier,” she notes and that is a big priority for this artist who taps into the historical ecology of the city to find possible solutions for some of the problems of today. She actively creates her partnerships to enhance the insight into eco-systems and hopefully resulting changes will follow. Or at least an awareness. But she also finds people who answers her questions in a way that to her makes sense and dovetails with what might be a specific mission.

Two things happened around Coetzee’s research. The architect had done a master thesis that dealt with hair salon designs in the Joburg CBD and informed her how they would impact the environment. At the same time, Coetzee’s wife Réney Warrington (a curator, novelist and film critic amongst other things), gave her a book Forgotten World by Alex Schoeman et al, because she knew where Coetzee’s head was at.

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The Ndzundza/Nzunza Portrait at dusk. Picture Hannelie Coetzee

The reason for the use of ceramics in this work is the historical traces discovered on pottery that dated from that time, hence the astonishing use of the colourful ceramic plates to create a picture that will be seen from a distance as well as speak to the community who live there.

What she discovered in Forgotten World was that Swazi and Basotho patterns were found in the Ndzundza/Nzunza pottery patterns. Schoeman and his co-authors had found that in pottery remnants and through oral history which all points to the Ndzundza/Nzunza embrace of a cultural diversity which included other ethnic groups. “Much like Johannesburg today,” she says and one of the reasons she has found her place and lost her heart to Jozi.

Mavhunga also brought a group of Instagrammers to her attention. Their influence on trendy hairstyles inspired her to research old and new hairstyles resulting in a collage of many different styles to show how the old inspires the new. It’s the way she works, to underline how history influences modern trends.

Samantha at Rosebank Firestation Artist Hannelie Coetzee 2018
Samantha at Rosebank Fire Station, artist and photographer Hannelie Coetzee

In similar vein Samantha who was originally exhibited at the 2017 Joburg Art Fair has now been positioned in the foyer of the new Rosebank Fire Station in Baker Street at the behest of ARC architects. Coetzee first encountered Samantha (Mamiled) during walkabouts to the Ferndale stream in Johannesburg as part of her investigation of the city’s water structure then and now. “I study and explore the old ecology on which the city is built and in the process, amongst other things, I discover not only the beauty of nature but interesting people.”

Engaging with her, she discovered that Mamiled frequently visits the stream, on her own and with friends and she would sometimes wash here. That specifically reconnected her with her grandmother who used to take her to a stream as a child. “It’s about memories and moments,” says the artist who also finds pleasure that this work should find a home in a fire station.

Some of the wood used in the artwork comes from the old Rissik Street Post Office that burnt down and the desk that functions as a plinth was part of a castoffs found in an old building she was working in at the time in the Maboneng district. “I often work in these neglected buildings just before they are flipped because of what I find there,” she explains, and it all becomes part of her regenerating mindset.

Samantha made from parquet tiles, shelves and the desk, all salvaged by Coetzee, is 3.2m high and was especially insightful at the Art Fair because one has to stand at some distance to recognise her features. But what she represents and the fact that this fire station had to be built around and in context of the original station which is the second oldest building in Rosebank, all ties into the Coetzee ethos, including that she often works with natural industry waste such as wood and mining core.

With these two insightful Hannelie Coetzee artworks happening quite by chance simultaneously, the visual impact will resonate with vigour and eloquence sharing impactful stories.

The Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria Aims to Forge a Partnership between the University and the Public

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Gauteng’s latest art centre featuring a handful of galleries, something which can stand as a counterpoint to Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation, is in the process of being built on the edges of the University of Pretoria’s Hatfield and South campuses. Named the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (Javett-UP) in honour of its philanthropic donor, work started in 2016 and the Centre is set to open in the first half of 2019. DIANE DE BEER spoke to the architect Pieter Mathews whose firm Mathews and Associates designed the Centre as a link to the people: 

Javett Art Centre at UP (Liam Purnell) (2)
Javett Art Centre in the making. (Liam Purnell)

 

Even before we get to the art, which is really what the Javett Art Centre is all about, there’s the building – and according to lead and concept architect Pieter Mathews it is easily the most challenging project his firm has ever worked on.

Keeping in mind that with these grand art projects, the buildings have become as important as the art featured, the fact that the first concept design was penned at the end of 2012, captures the complexity of the endeavour. With the help of project architect Liam Purnell assisted by two project dedicated architects Carla Spies and Jannes Hattingh, their goal has been to create a space that would activate the connection between art and architecture. That’s also why the specific site (one of three options) was selected, because of the proximity of the Boukunde Building and the Visual Art Building that flank the Art Centre. “It makes sense that those three should be linked,” says Mathews.

It also complicated the challenge because it meant that they would be building across one of Tshwane’s main arteries, Lynnwood Road and yet, because of their approach, it will heighten the visual appeal as well as the visibility of the centre. They have turned the bridge into a huge feature wrapped in lightweight concrete cloth that reaches across the exterior and interior based on the much-loved shweshwe fabric. This “cloth” displays many different features including a play of light and shadow also turning the bridge into an expansive feature when it is illuminated at night. “It almost looks like fairy lights glistening in the middle of the road,” explains the architect about this design feature which has strong South African connections which embraces all its people.

Javett Art Centre at UP (Liam Purnell) (1)
Shadows in Play at Lynnwood Road. (Liam Purnell).

But the bridge is also the connector between the public and the students and academics, the two campus sites and the diversity which is embraced on campus

The other reason for the site is that while it has one section on the main Hatfield campus, the section that crosses to the far side of Lynnwood Road will offer the public easy access to the galleries as well as a restaurant which will be part of the complex and is planned as an inviting addition for museum visits.

Apart from the bridge, which is also an exhibition space and offers visual invitations to the other galleries, the Mapungubwe gallery – which will house one of the most important collections entrusted to the stewardship of the University of Pretoria – is the other focal point of the Centre, towering into the sky. It adds to the dominance of the building not only because of the design but also its height.

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The Javett Art Centre at University of Pretoria reaching across Lynnwood Road. (Hein Dedekind)

 

The building will profoundly change the landscape of the campus as well as the city. When complete, it will comprise nine distinct exhibition spaces, one of which will be housed in the iconic bridge and in addition to the Javett Foundation’s collection of 20th century SA Art and contemporary collections from the University as well as private donors, Director Christopher Till will feature exciting rotating exhibitions and the students, from across the university, will have rolling exhibitions in the dedicated student gallery. The Centre, with its focus on the Art of Africa, will also include a sophisticated restoration department and an auditorium which can be used for performances or public lectures.

Other design features that had to be taken into account were heritage buildings in the vicinity which are reflected in the design of facing walls of the new structure, trees that had to be maintained, the extension of the main artery of the university known as Tukkie Laan and the inclusion of two main squares, the Art Square which embraces both the art and the architecture students on either side and the Museum Square which is the public entrance to the galleries from different public parking spaces.

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Before any of this even started, Mathews, who has just been awarded the Medal of Honour for Visual Arts (Architecture) by the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, went on a 10 day museum tour courtesy of the Mellon Foundation accompanied by the late Stephan Welz who was also instrumental in the appointment of his architectural firm together with Prof Antony Melck and Prof Karel Bakker from the department at UP where Mathews studied. It was a learning curve, an intense museum tour to different world-class institutions visiting everything from their restoration spaces to their storage facilities. They were also introduced to different curators and the way they shaped their exhibitions, all of which had an impact on the final design.

And with something this all-encompassing as the Javett Art Centre, they had to find a unifying leitmotif to bind the various elements like the bridge wrapping, the faceted concrete shell structure of the Mapungubwe “mountain”, galvanised steel pergolas and all the other building elements. The solution was found in the colour scheme determined by the concrete cladding – a natural light grey. When they want to separate various elements, they will use charcoal as the shadow colour.

Javett - UP - View 05~1Anyone who knows the architect, will deem this a perfect fit – not only because of his innovative design skills, but also because he has always combined art with architecture. “I am an ambassador for the visual environment, “ says Mathews whose firm designed amongst others the Nellmapius Bridge on the N1; the New Mussina Bridge as gateway into South Africa (expected completion date end of this year); Transport Architecture TRT stations in the historic sensitive Pretoria CBD, (for example, Rivonia Trial station opposite the Old Synagogue); and various award-winning educational buildings for city schools, including Afrikaans Hoër Meisieskool and a new music centre for Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool. He and his Cool Capital team also hosted and designed the 2017 South African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

He is happy that he and his team have a good hold on this massive project. “I am very confident in the collective brain at work here.”

*The building will be completed by the beginning of next year.

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