“Competitions are a momentary stay against confusion” Saartjie

He Shot the Sheriff but he did not Shoot his Deputies. The Spier, 2010

One of the biggest ‘frauds’ in South African art is going down again. The fraud is the ‘promotion’ of South African contemporary art through a National Art competition sponsored by the benevolent Spier’s Foundation.

If one looks back at the history of Art competitions; it is easy to see the pitfalls that competitions of this magnitude create. Look at the French Salon of the 19th century and what catastrophic effects this ‘competition’ had on art. Ok, so there were kick-backs: such as the birth of the resistance art movements; movements such as the ‘Salon des Refusals’, which gave birth to Modern Art. The history of art competitions in South Africa (such as the Triennial Art competition of the 1980s) was sponsored by the hypocritical generosity of the Rembrandt van Rijn Art Foundation that after much controversy, withdrew its sponsorship in 1989. This was due to the negative publicity that the foundation received – a direct result of the selection procedure (in a clone of historical – ersatz). Artists, who had been rejected, attempted to form a ‘Triennial des Refusals’ alternative. Artists such as Andrew Verster, his associates and friends were major ‘dramatis personae’ in this unrealised ‘alternative’ ideal and backwardly absurd proposition. 

The idea of competitions in art is possibly an oxymoron in itself. It raises questions such as; is Art some kind of ‘sport’? Do competitions of this nature serve to promote the inherent values and concepts that benefit art? Is the money spent, well spent, in helping further the goals of art and artists (in helping anyone)? Who is marginalised by art competitions: the artists selected; the artists rejected or the sponsors? The idea dates back to antiquated colonists ideologies of exhibiting the ‘other’ for the express purpose of directly or indirectly expanding the wealth of the ‘home land’.

The ‘young buck’ know the score. When, the ‘doomed’ last Kebble Competition was announced, the headline news reached the underground in the Guardian & Mail, 2005, that Jeff Koons, (“America’s High Priest of Kitsch, Jeff Koons”, Matthew Krouse), was included in the Kebble Art Composition selection committee. Messages of: “If I had known that he was on the final selection committee I would have submitted something different” were published in the press. Others were more esoteric: “We all thought this would happen, some more secretively than others, because we know the nature of the competition beast”. Clive van den Berg saw Jeff Koons as “a major coup for South African art”. Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong. We will never know, as Brett Kebble the major sponsor was killed before the realisation of the competition and his family cancelled the event. Over the last few years, one of the larger Wine Estates has taken over the competition and it is now called the Spier’s Arts Competition which uses the same management structure as the Kebble Competition. Three years later and the artists that exhibit in this desperate rebirth seem as virtuous as a 1969s prostitute on Abby Road who has only one pimp left. After Brett Kebble was killed, under suspicious circumstances of fraud, many artists claimed that they had never entered the now politically ‘dubious’ competition. It reminds the author of those artists (99% white South African’s) who had benefited by apartheid policies who after 1996 claimed to have been part of a resistance movement. Evidence shows that 99% of those artists were not a member of any official political party.

The seemingly, incestuous Spier’s competition still haunts us. Pablo Picasso once said:

“From that moment when art is no longer the food of the superior, the artist can exteriorise his talent in new formulae, in all manner of caprices and fantasies, and in all varieties of intellectual charlatanism. People no longer seek either consolation or exaltation in the arts. Instead they seek the new, the extraordinary, the extravagant, and the scandalous.”

The Spier’s Competition seems to take Picasso’s enlightening dictum literally. Their competition allows for opportunities of ‘all varieties of intellectual charlatanism’, while maintaining the main course and desert for themselves. Maybe, this time, the Competition will have a really ‘big-name’ judge such as Hurt (or is that Hurst?) on the judging panel. One thing for sure, we will have the old Kebbel nepotistic gang back to determine what South African Art is allowed to be.

Definitely: new; extraordinary; extravagant and scandalous if nothing else…


2 Responses to ““Competitions are a momentary stay against confusion” Saartjie”

  1. 1 no net
    December 25, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    this time then i was falling and falling and falling and flying so far out of this world. open source. open grid. to simply love is to be

  2. 2 no net
    December 25, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    have you invested in something valueless one?

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