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Watch this space for our weekly column about anything interesting on the S.A.art scene !!!

Week 16


by Andries Loots

It was with shock and horror that everybody learnt about the Financial state of affairs of the National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa.
The Gallery applied to host an exhibition by the well known German artist, Joseph Beuys and when it was approved, they found that they had insufficient funds available to host the exhibition. The German Government came to the rescue and offered to pay for the transportation of the artworks, insurance and the Curators salary. A few local donors also assisted. The director, Marilyn Martin complained that the gallery does not even get enough funds to pay the basics to keep the it running. The exhibition opened on the 5th September 1998.
( Sunday Times, Metro, 6 September 1998 )
Just a week before this, prominent Art Dealers, Gallery owners and artists attended a seminar at the University of Cape Town with the theme " Who or what makes the pendulum swing in the art scene ? "

A panel discussion was heard and then the floor was open to questions by the participants. One of the Gallery owners asked Marilyn Martin why she doesn't stage commercial exhibitions from time to time to generate the much needed funds for the Museum and National Gallery. This has been very successfully done by the Durban Museum and Gallery. Her very evasive answer was that she and the National Gallery distance themselves from the Art Industry in South Africa. This policy was adopted a long time ago and nobody wants to change this. She also made it very clear that she will never allow the Gallery to be run by the private sector and stated that the National Museum and Gallery are not supported by the Government as much as they were before but mentioned however that they have collected quite a few million ( S.A. Rand ) in donations from sponsors over the past year.

One of the representatives said afterwards, " The whole debate was very unfocused and the only constructive idea that came from it was that a lot more art education should be introduced into our school and university systems." Marilyn was again not very interested in any of these suggestions.

We all know that the role of the National Museums and Galleries have changed after 1994 and it seems that it is still very difficult for some people to adjust to this change. It doesn't benefit to start buying only Black Artist's work because of guilt from the past for the " neglected ones" or to paint tribal imagery on the facades of these historical buildings. It is not the outside which will change these institutions, but the management inside who has to adapt to these changes. Artists already feel that their role in the struggle was not appreciated enough and they don't want a new struggle to get their work recognized.

It was always regarded as prestigious to have your work represented in the National Gallery or Museum. Lately eyebrows were lifted quite a few times about the quality of some acquisitions and also about the prices paid . Some of our more prominent Artists see this as an embarrassment and everywhere the integrity of the National Museum and Gallery is questioned.

Something will have to be done very soon about this awkward situation as we have an obligation towards the 7 500 visitors, mostly foreign art lovers who visit the museum and Gallery every month. The Gallery should take them into consideration and reflect on its purpose to properly represent South Africa's art and artists through utilizing whatever means at its disposal .