The Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) has been working feverishly up to the forthcoming celebration of the centenary of the famous Sir Edwin Lutyens building, the grand custom-built housing for the original Foundation Collection at JAG.
JAG’s dedicated staff, led by chief curator Antoinette Murdoch, has pulled out all the stops to ensure that the work of the gallery, and the important position it occupies in the South African art world, are suitably highlighted in the run-up to the official celebration of the Centenary on 10 November 2015.
In order to focus public perception on the core work of the Gallery, which has housed, acquired and exhibited art for the citizens of Johannesburg and for many foreign visitors for over one hundred years, a series of knockout exhibitions and installations are currently showing and planned at JAG leading up to the grand official party, and on into next year.
In this range of exhibitions and installations over the period of the centenary celebrations, the curatorial team have purposefully given deep consideration to JAG’s acquisitions and specialist collections, and the grand old lady will show off as much of her varied and impressive archives of work as possible.
The following exhibitions and installations can be experienced as part of the centenary celebrations:
Moments in a Metropolis, curated by Tara Weber, aims to highlight, celebrate and interrogate JAG’s defining context – the city, and Johannesburg in particular. This exhibition consists of work on paper only and include artists such as: Richard Estes, James Rosenquist, Robert Hodgins, Frank Brangwyn, Theophile Steinlen, Ernest Cole and William Kentridge
South African Art 1940-1975, curated by chief curator at JAG Antoinette Murdoch, is strictly chronological, making use of the collection of the gallery. There will be indicators on the walls of key events in history and specifically the history of art in the South African calendar. Artists on this show will include Gerard Sekoto, George Pemba, Ernest Mancoba, Alexis Preller, Cecil Skotnes, Gladys Mgudlandlu, Valerie Desmore and Walter Battiss.
Pastoral Pieces: Significant African Objects, curated by widely respected artist and academic Professor Karel Nel and Philippa van Straaten, is designed to show off significant pieces from within all of the sub-collections at JAG, including the most recently acquired Maritz Collection. These objects are regarded as the most important and noteworthy of the traditional Southern African Art Collection of the Gallery, which has the reputation as one of the best in the world.
The Digital Underground: Performance video pieces installation, curated by Musha Neluheni, is an exhibition which will fill the entire Meyer/Pienaar gallery in the basement, and will exclusively look at electronic and digital work. Artists to see in this exciting contemporary show include: Mohau Modisakeng and Donna Kukama.
Finally on the formal exhibition front, curator Sheree Lissoos delves into the Foundation Collection to showcase work by Pre-Raphaelite artists and their contemporaries – including one of the Gallery’s most prominent works in the Western canon, Regina Cordium by D.G. Rossetti.
Thrown into the mix of some of the most profound and fascinating art collections in the country are a number of other interventions for the 100 year celebration.
The history of the Edwin Luytens building is fascinatingly explored in a publication that will be made available at the time. Constructure: 100 years of the JAG building and its evolution of space and meaningis not simply a history of the building, although it does address its origins and development, and the extensions to the gallery complex in 1940 and 1986. More than this, it is a work of scholarship about the intellectual, aesthetic and cultural changes and challenges faced by staff and visitors over the years. The book is edited by Tracy Murinik and gives a balanced account of JAG’s problems and achievements.
The SA Mint and the indispensable Friends of JAG group, will also launch a special commemorative range of coins to mark the auspicious occasion of the centenary.
The centenary celebration, and the lead-up to it, is therefore not just about a one night party. The initiatives, exhibitions and installations around the event are creating some much needed purpose and new context for the gallery, providing it, hopefully, with a new set of energies and audiences.