The evergrowing contemporary art market in South Africa has changed dramatically over the last 15–20 years and, in part, pivotal to this growth is Stevenson: a contemporary art force that cements its local offering with two galleries; one in Johannesburg and the other in Cape Town.
Stevenson has always been about art history and public discourse – but at the same time a commercial gallery. What better way to celebrate its 15th anniversary than with a group show, spanning both cities at the same time, and tackling this paradox head-on? Both, and reflects on the gallery as a space of artistic ideas and concepts, but also as a thriving marketplace.
Alongside the collective of the current 11 directors, this exhibition was co-curated by Stevenson’s newest team members, directors Sisipho Ngodwana and Alexander Richards. Turning the traditional gallery space upside down and inside out, Ngodwana and Richards made sure the exhibition spills into the private and administrative spaces of the gallery, hitting home that this is a creative and commercial space. Walking through these areas, it’s apparent that the exhibition consists of a mixture of new works, as well as older pieces from gallery friends and acquaintances.
Highlights in the Cape Town space include a stellar selection by some of our country’s most remarkable female artists.
Jane Alexander’s ‘Frontier with Church’ depicts an array of animal-human hybrids re-enacting a scene from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Originally commissioned for the travelling exhibition of the same title, and first shown at the Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt, the installation’s reconfiguration in the gallery prompts ideas about mythologies, the secular and the sacred.
Then, a selection of works is included from across Zanele Muholi’s oeuvre. Only Half the Picture, first exhibited the year that same-sex marriage was legalised in South Africa (2006), is an unprecedented set of images of black, female, same-sex relationships and confronts the assumption that queerness is alien to African cultures.
Other series revisited include Of Love & Loss, a record of LGBTI weddings and funerals; Being, a chronicle of black lesbian relationships; MO(U)RNING, a response to an invasion of Muholi’s own home; the ongoing portrait projects Brave Beauties and Faces and Phases, which function as living archives of black lesbian and trans individuals; and Somnyama Ngonyama, where Muholi turns the camera onto herself to confront race in the photographic archive.
Traders, a 2004 painting by Deborah Poynton, presents a composite scene incorporating numerous aspects of everyday South African life. The broad spectrum of people represented, and the power dynamics that emerge once they engage with one another commercially, foreground ideas around commodity, possession, trade and self in the South African context.
And, in the City of Gold, the Johannesburg iteration is equally interesting. Highlights include large-scale cityscapes by Guy Tillim, whose photographs of Joburg and Harare – from his series Museum of the Revolution – are installed on the exterior walls, greeting visitors and commuters passing over Nelson Mandela Bridge. The scale and form of the works mimics the advertising that covers many of the buildings in these cities, while their content mirrors the gallery’s immediate urban environment.
A spatial intervention by Serge Alain Nitegeka disrupts the entrance of the gallery. Using wood and paint, the artist blurs the boundary between architecture and painting. He invites us to imagine alternative ways of navigating, occupying and understanding space – a common thread throughout the exhibition.
Zander Blom’s photographic series, The Drain of Progress (2004–07), captures installations produced in the artist’s home in Brixton, and reveals the origins of his playful engagement with the art-historical canon. Two images from this project were shown in Disguise, the inaugural exhibition in Stevenson’s Woodstock space in 2009 – the first time Blom exhibited with the gallery. Both, and, and four previously unpublished images from the series are presented in Johannesburg.
Robin Rhode’s Black Tie is also a meditation on artistic labour, combining the autographic mark made by the artist with a set of photographic mediations. Rhode’s photo series from 2003, the year Stevenson opened its doors, shows the artist making a charcoal drawing of a black tie on his white shirt. Like the founders of the gallery, Rhode manifests a simple idea, making something out of nothing.
Don’t miss the dynamic exhibition ‘Both, and’, showing in Cape Town until 21 August and Joburg until 24 August 2018. Visit stevenson.info for details.