The Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) has received its fair share of problems and setbacks over its long history. Following recent petitions against the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) recommendation to convert Joubert Park to a taxi rank, this week saw the celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the Lutyens Building, one of the oldest within the South African art establishment, on 10 November 2015. The Lutyens building was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a contemporary of Sir Herbert Baker, is iconic with its large archways and pillars and wood flooring. The City of Johannesburg has allocated R50-million to restore the building to its former glory.
To mark the celebration, JAG presents six exhibitions drawn from its impressive permanent collection. Constructure: 100 Years of the JAG Building and its contribution of Space and Meaning, edited by Tracey Murinik, was also launched at the event. The book details the origins, history and development of the gallery and interrogates the challenges faced by staff and visitors over the years, giving a balanced account of JAG's problems and achievements.
Judith Mason, Rocking Horse, 1974, Oil on canvas
Walking into the historical building, one is presented with Encore: Public Favourites featuring gallery's best loved works selected by JAG's curators, including masterpieces by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Penny Siopis. Following that, Pre-Raphaelites and Their Circle, curated by Sheree Lissoos, sees the exhibition of all Pre-Raphaelite work in the collection of the gallery will be exhibited as well as some of their contemporaries.
In the Meyer-Pienaar gallery, situated in the basement, are contemporary electronic and digital work curated by Musha Neluheni. Digital Underground features works by Mohau Modisakeng, Nicholas Hlobo, Anthea Moys, Nandipha Mntambo, and more. The city is explored in Moments in a Metropolis, curated by Tara Weber, an exhibition that celebrates and interrogates JAG's defining context - the city, through works on paper, including printmaking and photography.
As one moves further through the gallery, one is met with a chronological exhibition entitled South African art from 1940-1975, celebrating the best of South Africa's mid 20th Century art. The exhibition is curated by Antoinette Murdoch, JAG's chief curator and co-curated by Tharien Strydom. Prof Karel Nel & Philippa van Straaten curated Pastoral Pieces: Significant African Objects from JAG's historical collections showcases significant pieces from all of the sub-collections of the gallery's African Traditional collection.
In addition to the centenary exhibitions, The Friends of JAG in collaboration with the SA Mint released three limited edition commemorative medallions commemorating JAG's centenary programme. The 2 ounce sterling-silver medallions, which are available as 100 limited edition sets of three or 100 single editions of each, pay homage to the JAG building's neo-classical architectural motifs as well as prominent sculptural pieces from the JAG collection such as Eduardo Villa's St Sebastian; Bruce Arnott's The Citizen, and two of Dumile Feni's sculptural works entitled Portrait of Albert Luthuli. A portion of the sale of the medallions will be donated to the Friends of JAG in their pursuit for support and funds for the gallery.
JAG's three special sterling silver medallions
Despite contentation around whether the gallery should be moved, the concern over safety of the surrounding area and the degradtion of the buildings which require immediate renovation, the gallery is still home to a large historical portion of South African art that is still relevant to art lovers and general South Africans alike. The centenary exhibitions are a tribute to the importance of South African art and JAG in our society. The exhibitions will continue into 2016.
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