Archive for December, 2018


De-Definitions in a de-apartheid Society: Commodity Space.

“In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable”. Ernst Fisher.

The building, the commercial art gallery, is on the corner of a popular street in the upmarket ‘bohemian’ part of town. The appearance is of a ‘modern structure’ re-designed in an adapted post-modernist way. Research leads me to believe that this was once, before the face lift, before being annexed,, a car sales building for elite models. All this has changed; the building is now home to one of the most active and contemporary commercial art galleries in South Africa.

Once inside one observes that the inner space has been adapted in a modernist way to the turn-over of a new commodity, the sales of Art. The owners have seen fit to re-divide the large floor space into various room sizes to facilitate the maximum wall space in relation to light and area available. The aim being to present an adaptable space that will suit the needs of the variety of demands that artist will make on this place.

The space can handle traditional and multimedia works. While the patrons can meander through the space without being disturbed by sweaty curators or sales personnel. The art works are presented in the modernist genre; each work is presented on a neutral surface with enough space so as not to intrude on the next work, while the lighting is focused to enhance the works and at the same time create an almost religious, or spiritual, ambience.

This is the typical commercial art gallery. The artists selected need to produce something saleable. Something that the desperate collector can invest in. The exchange is one of money for item and is thinly disguised. All artists are hand chosen and presented as ‘good investments’ due to past victories or more popular beliefs.

The artists are presented as the continuity that lies between South African and International Modernism. Since 1995 a new art has begun to flourish in South Africa through a powerful impetus of the myth of the African Renaissance artist. An art that has begun to look outwards to Europe and America and an exploration of past atrocities. This has resulted in recognition of a collective memory, a memory with deduced resources of consciousness.

This submergence of the artist’s experience has been taken up by the contemporary commercial galleries as offering a package that is a sound investment for investors in the near future. The commercial gallery in South Africa today may find it hard to distinguish between history and art history. A history that includes the atrocities of apartheid and the de-identity of a de-nation. Their stance has been one of de-tachment, and a focus on popular trends. As Malraux has pointed out, its the galleries obligation to “compile and reflect the record of human freedom and creativeness”. But, this ‘barrier’ is not reflected in the commercial world. As Ted Leonsis a prominent new media marketer says: “I only care about what our members and consumers say”.

The gallery is partly responsible for the de-intellectualisation of art and the dead-end of of a dynamic vanguard. ‘They’ offer hero’s of mass-media and technological innovation a place to show their goodies. As Harold Rosenberg points out the gallery is “aware of itself as a medium of mass education in novelty”, it presents works art as news, “laying claim to the relevance to the contemporary”. Artists are made or broken on the mediocrity rack of consumerability.

Galleries are looking for content, because they think everyone wants content. But this is not true. Most of what is described as content is really decoration. But what they fail to see is that people really lust after context. They want the raw data to be filtered through ‘human consciousness’. The artists consciousness of imagination or analysis delivered in a way that is entertaining and hence possibly valuable in another way

The dilemma of the gallery is that it bases, its aesthetic, stands and falls on ‘the’ popularity principle. Making the arts into a decorative media ignoring the values and beliefs that inspired the works in the first place. The result is the mass consumerism of a mass consumable culture.

This is surely a place not to ‘make’ love in.