Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spier Contemporary 2010

This year’s Spier Contemporary Exhibition, which markets itself as the largest biennale in South Africa, proved to be an engaging and thought-provoking visit. For the eager art-lover with an appreciation for creative commentary the Exhibition offers a wealth of perspective and of course, the expected controversy.
The exhibition’s curators sifted through more than 2 700 entries countrywide to conclude with the final collection of 132 artworks by a range of 101 hopeful artists. The exhibition provides a platform for artists to show new individual pieces which collectively make up a fine measure of the South African experience.

The Exhibition is currently open at the City Hall, a suitable venue for the housing of a retrospective commentary like this one, considering our country’s social history. Wandering through its lofty halls I came across art pieces that shocked, dismayed and engaged with their viewers. For me, there were moments of alarm, reactions of awe and wonder, even a gasp or wide-eyed stare. Much of the time I had to look closer to see exactly what the art piece was. ‘The Dreamcatcher,’ an enormous webbed magnifying glass that clung to the wall like a giant net was actually made up of thousands of condoms, as I realised after taking a good look. Once I’d considered its accompanying title and brief description I had a moment of enlightenment. There is always more to an art piece than meets the first glance.

Viewing an exhibition like Spier Contemporary is a very personal and introspective experience. At times I found it somewhat disturbing, as much of the art comments on violence and political unrest. However, there were some more light-hearted pieces, such as an entire collection dedicated to the Fifa 2010 World Cup. I enjoyed the experimentation with genre, the engagement with race, gender and class. My last encounter with contemporary art was at the Spier Contemporary Exhibition of 2007/08, which was held at the Spier Wine Estate. Comparably, this year’s exhibit has progressed according to current events and context of the past two years. There was of course the inevitable apartheid and post-apartheid commentary - themes that I find are becoming a little stale in modern South African art.

I was interested in the innovative use of media and installation. Pieces that combined found objects with video media particularly stood out for me. One artists set about combining a small room, a microphone and a camera. The audience walks into the actual installation, appearing on the screen and becoming integrated into the art piece.

It was as if I was alone with the artists, their voices resonating from their silent art pieces and telling stories about the trepidations, histories, ironies and humour of South Africa. Art has always been at liberty to provoke debate, particularly in a modern context. Some audiences may find that the Exhibition’s pieces are too concentrated on the artists themselves, not accessible enough for a general viewing scope and perhaps even narcissistic. I found personally that the preoccupation with the self and even the slight arrogance of modern artists today was evident in some of the pieces on exhibit. It may be tricky for the general public who do not have a sound artistic knowledge to relate to some of them. I found that the undercurrent messages that some artists presented were slightly elitist. By perhaps deliberately obscuring their work with gravity and complex ideas they are in fact excluding their audiences. Despite the inaccessibility of certain pieces, the Spier Contemporary Exhibition without a doubt offered a multi-dimensional, gutsy look at our country’s past, present and future.

Entrance to the Exhibition is free of charge and it is open seven days a week from 10am till 6pm, including public holidays, until 14 May.

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