art, Interviews

In conversation with Goodman Gallery owner Liza Essers

Thys Dullaart


liza esser

In anticipation of the opening of the Zeitz MOCAA, we chatted to Liza Essers, director and owner of Goodman Gallery. With a finger firmly on the pulse of the local (and global) art industry, she gives us some insight into the increasing focus on Africa as an international art leader.

How has the art industry changed in the last decade?

The industry has grown, and generally the market focus has been shifting from Asia to Africa. The rich history of Africa, its many social, political, economic and cultural ebbs and flows, have created a treasure trove of complicated discourses and captivating artworks from engaged artists. Additionally, the collector and audience base for contemporary art is far more well-connected and speedy in today’s age, and the industry is responding to this.

What do you think has contributed to this change?

The world is shockingly connected, and as a result information is so accessible that it catches and creates new trends very rapidly. Because of this connectedness and accessibility, change is truly inevitable. Change is of course a great instigator for innovative art, and thus the artists working today have the opportunity to use their work as responses to these constant transformations.

The opening of Zeitz MOCAA is one of the most anticipated events of the year. What excites you the most about it?

I'm most excited by the long-term opportunity it represents to shape art history. This year we have also seen the opening of the Centre for the Less Good Idea in Johannesburg and the A4 Arts Foundation in Cape Town. Until now, this depth of institutional focus on contemporary art from across the continent has been a luxury in Africa. I hope to see a propelled momentum in bringing African perspectives into what has been a Eurocentric narrative guiding the international art scene.

How is Zeitz MOCAA redefining the local art industry?

Zeitz is playing a major role in cultivating sustainable and substantial growth of local artists. This cultivation is characterised by both creating a physical space to memorialise and emphasise works of art, but also create a public institution for a widespread education of the bourgeoning trends that are solidifying themselves as the new canon.

For those visiting Zeitz MOCAA, what should be the first works they see?

El Anatsui’s tapestries made out of recycled materials – their scale, luminosity and intricacy astounds. The fact that they are composed of thousands of pieces of recycled metal bound together with copper wire adds to their uniqueness. But if for some reason you miss them, you'll be able to study them up close at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg when he has his first major solo exhibition in the country, titled Meyina, in November 2017.

What is your favourite thing about being involved in the art industry in Africa?

The opportunity to support some of the most hard-working and talented artists in the world. Many people do not understand the integrity, singularity of vision and microscopic attention to detail that it takes to be an artist. I feel privileged to be able to create the space they need to produce and show their work.

What do you predict for the future of local artists on an international scale?

I predict that local artists will be increasingly influenced by international trends and conversations. As a result, they will have to work doubly hard, with a heightened sensitivity and awareness, to internalise their own local histories. Interconnectedness is both a blessing and a curse, one that future local artists will have to confront as they seek to maintain their own voices, yet understand how those voices align with, and potentially collide against, global narratives.

Zeitz MOCAA opens to the public on 22 September. Visit zeitzmocaa.museum for more details.