Venice Biennale: Can curators stage world class show in time?

2015-04-05 13:20

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Architecture firm Mashabane Rose and the Apartheid Museum have been appointed curators for South Africa’s costly pavilion at the world’s most important art show, the Venice Biennale.

The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) made the announcement on Friday after repeated questions from City Press.

“We are delighted to announce that Mashabane Rose and the Apartheid Museum have been appointed for the SA National Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale,” said Sandile Memela, spokesperson for Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

However, the jury is still out as to whether the curators will be able to stage a world class show in time – the exhibition opens on May 9 and the week before the opening is crucial for curators and critics to look through the planet’s art offerings.

Works have to be packaged and freighted and installed on site. It takes about two weeks for work to clear Italian customs.

Memela did not say which artists will be showing in the South African space – which costs an estimated R1.5 million in rental per biennale.

The show was originally put out to tender in September last year. But then the DAC encountered problems with Treasury, who apparently did not approve the process.

Mamela said the tender was cancelled for “technical reasons”. City Press believes this has to do with the unusual nature of tendering for something as complex as an art exhibition.

A new, closed tender was issued and the architecture firm and landmark museum was one of apparently nine contenders. Commercial galleries may not be awarded the tender. At least two withdrew from the process as they felt they didn’t have enough time.

“What needs to be recognised is that the DAC has been grappling with the appropriate processes to appoint a curator for some time,” said Mamela. “In fact, we have yet to find a wholly successful model that is able to meet the stringent government procurement framework.”

South Africa’s inaugural official showing in Venice in 2011 was mired in controversy over its tender procedure and budget accountability.

South Africa will also be represented in the main exhibition called All the World’s Futures, where Kay Hassan, Joachim Schönfeldt and Mikhael Subotsky made the cut.

South African-born art star Marlene Dumas will also show, as will Sue Williamson, on a fringe event.

There’s also a lot of hype around the Johannesburg pavilion, a self-funded fringe showing of cutting-edge young South African performance artists and art filmmakers.

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