Art@First: The Aftermath

August House artists’ studios. All photos courtesy Kate Ballenden

From 22 August until 22 September 2018, FirstRand’s Art@First Gallery will show the works of established and emerging artists from August House in an exciting new group exhibition titled The Aftermath.

If you want people to be bitten by the art bug, they need to be exposed to what art can be

     The Art@First Gallery at FirstRand is situated between the entrance foyer to 4 Merchant Place and Fresh@First, the staff canteen. The pop-up exhibition space was initiated by Beth van Heerden, FirstRand’s art executive, and opened its doors to staff about 18 months ago.
     Van Heerden had originally been tasked with filling the wall spaces that had opened up when the canteen was extended and new boardrooms were established. According to Craig Higginson, at the time Van Heerden didn’t have the budget to buy more work for the FirstRand collection – a role she has played now for over four years – so she and her colleagues went to the storeroom to look for existing works that could be displayed. There they found a great many ornithological and botanical artworks, some of which hadn’t been displayed for several years; but in the end, in an effort to showcase more contemporary works by contemporary South African artists, they decided on a pop-up exhibition. As Van Heerden has stated, ‘If you want people to be bitten by the art bug, they need to be exposed to what art can be. That’s why in the last few shows we’ve approached a wide range of galleries so that our staff can be exposed to a much wider range of art than they might be used to… We are all so pressurised these days.

Art can be quite intimidating, especially to people who feel they know little about it. We wanted to provide a platform for existing art lovers as well as for people who may not have the confidence or inclination to go and look at art

     To make time to go and see an art exhibition is difficult – even for those who would like to. So we thought we’d bring the art directly to our staff. On their way to the canteen, they can pass through an exhibition and perhaps stop, and look, and experience something unique.’
     Justin Glickman, who helped conceive the Art@First initiative, designed a touch-screen kiosk that is situated inside the exhibition space and provides further information about the art and artists on display. Glickman says that ‘art can be quite intimidating, especially to people who feel they know little about it. We wanted to provide a platform for existing art lovers as well as for people who may not have the confidence or inclination to go and look at art. We wanted them to engage with it in a way that was not intimidating, in a way that was relaxed, and so the middle space between the offices and the canteen is perfect for that. The great thing is: when a new exhibition goes up, you can immediately feel a shift in energy in the corridors. Suddenly, the whole place is alive.’
     Teresa Lizamore, who is the curator of the Rand Merchant Bank art collection, has curated several exhibitions in the space since it opened, including an exhibition celebrating Women’s Day in August last year. Lizamore was approached by August House for the idea of The Aftermath exhibition and it was decided that a call would be put out for a young new curator for the exhibition, and they would be mentored by Lizamore. Independent curator, artist and entrepreneur, Olwethu de Vos made the grade.

To make time to go and see an art exhibition is difficult – even for those who would like to. So we thought we’d bring the art directly to our staff. On their way to the canteen, they can pass through an exhibition and perhaps stop, and look, and experience something unique

Art@First August House

     ‘The framing, finishing off of an artwork, the placement and the hanging of this exhibition is an important part of the mentoring. Olwethu and I will discuss the best way to allow for an aesthetically pleasing and interesting exhibition,’ says Lizamore. De Vos has also been charged with compiling a catalogue of the exhibition, which will also serve as a marketing tool.
     Central to the philosophy of Art@First is to make art available and affordable. As with previous shows, the works are for sale for no more than R15 000, although there could be a few exceptions.
     It is important with all Art@First pop-up exhibitions that those passing through know that the works are only there for a brief period. Otherwise the artworks risk becoming normalised, or naturalised, so that they are no longer fresh provocations that demand attention.
     The Aftermath runs from 22 August to 22 September and is open to staff, but also to the public by invitation or appointment.
     To read more about Art@First, ‘the artist’s playground’, August House and housing Pan-African artists in private studio spaces, purchase our July 2018 issue, or continue supporting the arts and culture sector by subscribing to our monthly Creative Feel magazine.