Business Day Live | Matthew Partridge:
Tongues were set wagging this week as the media reported on Jacob Zuma’s new Cabinet, with one of the most surprising changes being the arts and culture portfolio. After losing the Gauteng premiership, Paul Mashatile has been taken out of the picture by a most unlikely appointment: former police minister Nathi Mthethwa.
Nathi Mthethwa. Picture: GCIS
The reaction on social media on Monday was mixed, from the arts and culture portfolio being called the “Guantanamo Bay of SA Cabinet postings” to more sober pleas for the post to be taken seriously and not relegated to a place where naughty politicians go to be punished. Considering the tragedy of Marikana, Mthethwa starts with a dark shadow dogging him.
As poor as his performance was as Gauteng premier, Mashatile’s reign at the Department of Arts and Culture has been equally troubling. An indication of this crisis of leadership is seen in the Iziko South African National Gallery (SANG) in Cape Town, which has recently lost its head in a controversial chain of events.
Early this month, SANG director Riason Naidoo issued a public letter explaining that his five-year contract had not been renewed and that he had been asked to vacate his post. “I do believe that the actions of Iziko are unfair in this regard and will be looking to contest this decision further,” Naidoo said. He is approaching the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
In response, Iziko sent a letter threatening an interdict and urging Naidoo not to issue any further public statements.
Despite “limited resources” and “challenging conditions” Naidoo suggests that he had achieved much, with a host of shows to the gallery’s credit. The demise of his directorship seems to have come at the time of his biggest success. In 2010 and 2011, Naidoo saw gallery attendance rocket, first by 67% in the case of his first exhibition: 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective, and then by a mammoth 106% in 2011 for Tretchikoff: A People’s Painter.
Then came the budget cuts.
In the annual report for 2012-13, attendance at SANG dropped 29% while Iziko’s other major museums, the South African Museum and the Iziko Slave Lodge, grew 2.7% and 4.8% respectively. Without citing these figures for Cape Town Iziko’s sister museums’ growth in his open letter, Naidoo attributes the constraints placed on the museum’s performance to a cut in the acquisitions and exhibitions budget for 2012-13.
Yet, as the art critic Sean O’Toole has noted, “In the context of the visual arts, a museum director is a studied mix of public intellectual and confidence trickster, professional bureaucrat and lyrical PR person for a perpetually beleaguered industry.”
From Pierneef to Gugulective was a dramatic re-hang of the SANG that saw the removal of the Bailey Collection, acquired in 1947, from its permanent display (a condition of its bequest). Naidoo hailed this as a triumph, framing the exhibition as a repositioning of the discourse of South African art history. While this show was widely contested, Naidoo rode his success, being invited to speak on several international platforms.
Then came the Tretchikoff exhibition curated by Andrew Lamprecht, which, although contested by some of the gatekeepers of the art world, saw a dramatic increase in visitor numbers. A reason suggested for the subsequent decrease in numbers was a lack of resources. Nevertheless, the collection has grown through generous donations and strategic relationships.
“You’re only as good as your last show” goes the old adage and, in the case of the Tretchikoff exhibition, a drop in numbers is an indicator of Naidoo’s inability to produce further blockbusters. The skilful mix demanded to manage an institution like the SANG, and to generate the funds necessary to carry on increasing visitors, is one of the core principles for the director of any art museum. He has to be a “gatekeeper and a magician” or a “tireless fundraiser and glib salesman”, all at the same time.
Instead, what has been revealed is too little too late. As an indication of his stewardship, which has ended embroiled in the tenure politics that comes with such fixed-term contracts, the PR campaign that Naidoo has launched has only brought Iziko and himself negative publicity at a time when the new leadership of arts and culture is, as yet, untested.
Read this and other interesting art-icles via source: http://www.bdlive.co.za/life/entertainment/2014/05/29/how-will-iziko-fare-under-mthethwa