Since opening in 2006, SMAC Art Gallery has presented numerous review exhibitions and retrospectives focusing on historical South African abstraction.
The global shift towards abstract art can no longer be seen as only a short-term revival. Artists worldwide are re-embracing the visual language of abstraction in all its guises and using it to break new ground. This current phenomena raises as many questions as answers, and critics and observers are providing diverse, often contradictory explanations. As with previous projects, SMAC intends to present a series of exhibitions on the subject (expect the sequel) and is engaging with South African academics and critics who have also identified this trend and are considering its impact.
An important aspect of this exhibition highlights the current ‘re-imagining’ of Modernism. The show allows for interesting and thought-provoking placements of works in dialogue with each other.
Abstraction has a special place in the canon of South African art particularly when we consider the work of Bill Ainslie (1954-1989) at the Johannesburg Art Foundation during the 1980s. Ainslie used abstraction as a starting point to instil a spirit of experimentation and freedom into the practice of some of South Africa’s most important young black artists. Ainslie’s approach was initially criticised as irrelevant and a waste of time, due to the political crisis in the country. Today he is being heralded as a visionary for implanting skills and a creative mind-set in his students that would be used by these artists to develop their own authentic voice and style – resulting in some of the most significant political art produced during the protest era.
In the past, abstraction was considered and described in terms of formal characteristics and significance. Despite its formal appearance, contemporary abstraction has a wide range of conceptual and thematic foundations and cannot be restrictively interpreted. Artists seem to be tapping into a historical language and vocabulary to express and capture diverse and fresh ideas. New abstraction could be process-driven, conceptual, intellectual, mystical or emotional, whilst collectively embodying the spirit of the time. Recurring themes and motifs include; environmental issues, branding, design, symbolism, digital media, architecture, urbanisation, ambient art and globalism – to name a few. The scope and scale of new abstraction as a cohesive, universal, contemporary vehicle is potentially unlimited.
Back to the Future: Abstract South African Art, Past and Present features works by:
Bill Ainslie, Kevin Atkinson, Walter Battiss, Jan-Henri Booyens, Willem Boshoff, Christo Coetzee, Kenneth Bakker, Bettie Cilliers-Barnard, Trevor Coleman, Barend de Wet, Peter Eastman, Nel Erasmus, Abrie Fourie, Charles Gassner, Georgina Gratrix, David Koloane, Sydney Kumalo, Sidney Goldblatt, Alexandra Karakashian, Eddie Ladan, Erik Laubscher, Speelman Mahlangu, Louis Maqhubela, Maja Maljevic, Samson Mnisi, Kyle Morland, Christian Nerf, Albert Newall, Douglas Portway, Helen A Pritchard, Fred Schimmel, Cecil Skotnes, Larry Scully, Themba Shibase, Simon Stone, Maud Sumner, Strijdom van der Merwe, Vivian van der Merwe, Hannatjie van der Wat, Jaco van Schalkwyk, Edoardo Villa and Sandile Zulu.