Blood Moon, Johannesburg.
27th July, 2018
JAG – the Johannesburg Art Gallery – is, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a once-grand edifice, marooned like an old freighter on the manic reef of downtown Johannesburg. You enter (for free) through a turnstile, and as you do so, the last survivor of the shipwreck emerges from the wheelhouse beside the door, looks you over disinterestedly, and disappears again. The exhibition spaces are as vast and silent as empty cargo holds, the skylights and light fittings, rails and tubing, all that is left of a once-thrumming engine.
The miracle is that it keeps going at all – JAG, that is – and as we wander its halls, alone, others silently enter, and wander by, and exit again. Will they return? Will we? Or will JAG crumble, finally, into the crumbling city?
Here are seven images.
Tuinhuys (the Garden House) is the Cape Town office of the Presidency, a lovely piece of architecture with a history that goes back, as everything does in South Africa, to slavery and colonialism. It was from here that FW de Klerk declared the end of apartheid; it was from here that Mandela, Mbeki, Motlanthe and – catastrophically – Jacob Zuma steered the ship of state, in JZ’s case pretty much onto the rocks.
In this image, I have chosen to show, not just the graciousness and grace of the structure, but something of what it means in the South African context – appropriately, I would suggest, in black and white.
The work of Wolfgang Tillmans, a German photographer, seems perfectly housed in the downtown, chaotic, teeming environment in which the Johannesburg Art Gallery has washed up, like a shipwreck on the beach after Fukushima, faintly radioactive.
Much of Tillman’s art is seemingly artless – and sometimes, in his work, to my eye at least, art less means without art. Yet there are images, too, in his world of found objects, circumstance, accident, composition and observation, that are interesting, unsettling, and occasionally quite powerful.
These half-dozen images are images of Tillman’s images, but also reflections.
On the north side of the quay, just across the way from the Cape Grace Hotel, is the Victoria Basin, and a dry-dock where Taiwanese trawlers come to have their paintwork and their bodywork done – like elderly ladies at a beauty parlour. It is a study in contrasts.
A contrast I like even more, is this image of seaman’s washing, hanging on the rigging of one of the trawlers to dry, with the Zeitz-MOCAA – the Museum of Contemporary African Art – in the background.
Think of it as an outdoor installation. I call it, if you’ll go with the play on words, ‘Sea Washing.’
At the Bryanston Organic Market, these bees seemed to take seriously the organic, back-to nature meme, crawling all over the sticky cakes; in the Company Gardens in Cape Town, a seagull taking flight unsettled the classical stillness and calm of the lily pond and fountain; Rob at the Tuinhuys gates (the Tuinhuys is the official residence of the President, alongside Parliament) Rob broke the formal silhouette; down at the V&A Waterfront, where we emerged after High Tea, a rope snaked and coiled its way across the plain verticals and diagonals of the Victoria Basin.
Life doing what life does – forming a pattern, and breaking it.
I mentioned in a previous post (July 13) that Rob and I, on our trip to Cape Town, had treated my mom to High Tea at the Cape Grace Hotel, at the V&A Waterfront. Here are some photos from that rather yummy and elegant and leisurely ceremony.
I like these photos for capturing a golden afternoon with Rob and my mother. But it is the black and white image below, reflected in a mirror, that I like more – a pause for reflection, by a sixty-four year old son, a moment of quiet observation and affection.
Lucky boy, I think to myself.
We have been up and down the country, out and about, these past few weeks – Joburg and Cape Town, art fairs and high teas – so time for a little catch up.
On Sunday last week we were at the Turbine Hall Art Fair in downtown Johannesburg. Last year, you might remember, we saw the amazing psychedelic beaded Casspir, an armoured riot control vehicle from the apartheid days, decked out in peace signs and in brilliant colours. Everything about the event – the cool venue, the ceramics, the prints, the paintings and sculptures, the whole vibe of the place – rocked our boat, so this year when it showed up again on the calendar, we were booked in a flash (thanks Rob 🙂 )
We weren’t quite as taken, this year, with the overall quality of the show, though the Irma Sterns as always were gorgeous – thickly painted, sinuous, vital – and there were some ceramics we could have sold our house for. We looked at a lovely print of a pine tree – finely hatched crosslines, beautifully detailed – but found ourselves going back (thanks Rob, again) to a series of reductive linocuts by Prince Albert artist Joshua Miles.
From a distance, the prints look like hand-coloured photographs, but up close, you see the detailed work of the artist-printmaker. One print, in particular – ‘The Square Dam’ – we thought was both lovely in itself, and quintessentially South African, and so we bought it.
Here it is, being lifted down from its place in the exhibit.
My wife said, on reading my Last Post, ‘It looks like you’re telling the whole world you’re impotent. And you’re not.’
Bless her. Impartial, naturally, and blunt (Polish Catholic American Canadian), I have to agree with her. There is no impotence here. Impotence is absent. But let me tell you what there’s lots of – as I crest the hill of 65, and open my lungs and breathe deeply – there’s Gasworks. In one end, and out the other, oh yeah baby – the machinery might be starting to creak, at sixty five, but the gasworks is just getting started. Just firing up, so to speak.
You lose some things, you discover others.