Why I Left JAG – Antoinette Murdoch

Antoinette Murdoch (Former Curator of Johannesburg Art Gallery):

First of all, I would like to apologise sincerely for the inconvenience caused by my sudden decision to leave JAG. I would like to thank all of the individuals who stood by me and helped me through some very trying times. This letter outlines the circumstances under which I had to work at Johannesburg Art Galllery.

The final straw came when I was once again denied the finances for a project that I had been working on for two years. The exhibition planned with a group of Reunion Island artists was roughly a month away from fruition when I was told that the project would not be funded. Procedure was followed (as usual) and a budget was submitted as part of the initial report but once again, the system failed. This was the last but definitely not the first time that an attempt to initiate a project had been unreasonably denied.

It must be understood that at the beginning of each financial year, a business plan and budget would be submitted by each directorate. Not once over a period of seven years were these budgets honoured. Towards the end of most years there was no money left for cleaning and even basics like toilet paper, so exhibitions were simply cancelled. Most exhibitions executed during my time at the gallery were paid for using the scant funds raised by The Friends of the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Although technical staff played an important role in executing these exhibitions, their attitude could only be described as petulant, at the best of times. These individuals staged in-house strikes at a whim and felt that I was personally responsible for their lack of salary increases. They regularly solicited exhibitors to complete art installations, which made it near impossible to stage exhibitions. The security staff displayed a similar, negative attitude; no doubt dissatisfied in believing that they deserved salary increases as well.

I was assaulted, verbally abused and my life was threatened on more than one occasion. The tyres of my vehicle were slashed. In the earlier years, the unions tried to intervene when this sort of incident occurred but every time I was made out to be the perpetrator and the guilty staff members were seen as victims. The real perpetrators are still employed by the City of Johanneburg, as a result of the flawed disciplinary process which I unsuccessfully tried to follow.

The gallery building has been neglected for many years. There simply has not been any money in the budget for general maintenance. I was elated during the 2014/5 financial year when approximately R15,000,000 was allocated to maintenance as a result of reports drafted by myself and Alba Letts, imploring that funds be allocated. Sadly, the appointment of corrupt contactors resulted in a botched job. The millions spent on the restoration and renovation were totally wasted, and more money had to be allocated to rectify various disasters.

Another problem that I encountered is that there is not enough storage space for the art at the gallery, so the actual exhibition space is steadily shrinking. To the credit of some staff members, the paper storeroom has been rearranged and it is now clean and organised. The Traditional African work is also in good standing and it is meticulously preserved.

Visitation to the gallery is lacking partly as a result of the surrounding area. Attempted thefts from my car occurred on two occasions. The JMPD was retained to monitor the grounds, but to no avail. Litter from Joubert Park spills over to the gallery grounds and reports about the hole in the fence between the gallery and park have been consistently ignored. As a result, the gallery has no security on its North side and large pieces of copper are currently being stolen from the roof.

I have been deeply hurt and discouraged by budget cuts, ignored reports, and disrespect from executive staff.

Photo credit:  Travelhouseuk.co.uk