Lore Watterson is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Creative Feel Magazine
While it is not our style to repeat accusations and report on sensational allegations or denunciations, it is sometimes difficult to ignore the finger pointing remarks of art critics in South Africa – those critics who seem to delight in sharing their own ‘thought-provoking ideas’ with the public. Quite often it seems to be just for the sake of being notorious that they put debatable remarks about artists and art in general, on record. When I researched our cover story on the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), I, of course, found many critical voices who have, particularly in previous years, expressed reservations about the depths of the museum’s holdings. And, of course, what got a lot of attention was that the four public faces of the project – Coetzee, Zeitz, Heatherwick, and David Green (V&A Waterfront CEO) – are all white men; Zeitz and Heatherwick are non-nationals. Also that the new public museum is partly funded by the V&A Waterfront, which is part-owned by the Government Employees Pension Fund (Africa’s largest pension fund).
Looking at Zeitz himself, who comes from a family of physicians and had a meteoric rise in the business world, it is hard to imagine that the Zeitz MOCAA will be a financial failure. He was named Puma CEO in 1993 when he was 30, the youngest CEO of a public company in German history. The apparel brand had been operating at a loss and Zeitz took Puma to profitability and grew it into one of the top three sports-wear brands in the world. I strongly believe that we need as many public places as possible to show our great (and big!) artists’ works, like Nicholas Hlobo’s iimpundulu zonke ziyandilenda. What a treat to be able to see something like Hlobo’s art and others in a museum that is surrounded by a vibrant beautiful neighbourhood with many visitors, restaurants, hotels and has already become a ‘must see’ for foreign tourists – a real plus for all South African artists. Joburg, are you taking notes? Are we going to carry on with our underappreciated art gallery that nobody goes to, and certainly no overseas visitors? The Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) is actually the biggest gallery in Sub-Saharan Africa. It boasts over 9 000 works of art, displayed in 15 exhibition halls and sculpture gardens. In fact, the collection is so large that only ten per cent of the exhibits are ever on display at any one time, the rest are kept in storage. Does it matter, though, when visitors stay away due to its location and surroundings? Sad, but true.