The first Cape Town Triennial was held in 1982 – it was an ambitious project that quickly became an institution for anyone in the visual arts field. The Bigger Picture shows selected works from the permanent collection, many of which were acquired during the Triennial Period in the 1980s and ’90s and, while it features some of our larger artworks, the title specifically refers to art production in the late twentieth century.
The Triennial shows gave voice to this unique period in South African history. Artists challenged the government and social conventions through resistance art, feminism and a new approach to traditional art materials. From the vast number of submissions accepted for the Triennial a selection was made by an appointed team of judges drawn from the national museums and art galleries around the country. The selected artworks would travel the country for a year, with the support of the Rembrandt van Rijn Art Foundation and various national art museums, stopping at eight national museums and galleries in all.
During a tumultuous time in South Africa’s political history the project gave agency to young artists and produced both great enthusiasm and heated debate as many of the artists approached socio-politics with scathing critique. It forced the formal art sector to recognise resistance art and gave rise to a continued development, both conceptually and practically, of new and unconventional mediums and techniques. It also served as a greater platform for feminist art, and critique on gender stereotypes was evident in this period.
The exhibition includes works such as Stanley Pinker’s Meeting at the Mountains of the Moon (1985), Tony Nkotsi’s Kariba (1993), Penny Siopis’ Still life with Watermelon and Other Things (1985), Willie Bester’s Crossroads (1991), William Kentridge’s The Conservationist’s Ball: Culling, Game Watching, Taming (1985), Tommy Motswai’s Grabbaburger (1988), Marion Arnold’s The Centre Cannot Hold (1986), Andrew Verster’s Iris A, B, C (1995), and Keith Dietrich’s Elliot Malekutu with Bicycle, Bucket and Bananas (1988), to name but a few.
The Bigger Picture features the products of artists both self-taught and formally trained. The Polly Street Centre, instrumental in giving guidance and support to urban black artists between 1952 – 1975 is felt, with works by both teachers and students on show, particularly among the sculpture pieces. The sculptural pieces were selected from a broader time period than the paintings and include Moses Kottler’s Nude Figure (1934), Gerard de Leeuw’s Sangoma (1962), Sydney Khumalo’s St Francis (1961), Eduardo Villa’s Dialogue (1988), Ezrom Legae’s Mother and Child (undated), Lucas Sithole’s Understanding (1977) and Wicthdoctor (1982), Bruce Arnott’s African Queen (undated) and an incised wood panel by Cecil Skotnes, Two Men and a Girl (1986). Also on show is a 16 meter wall installation by Michelle Nigrini consisting of 395 painted panels, entitled Colour Symphony (1991). This visual spectacle alone is worth a visit to the museum.