Raccogliere i pezzi

Dopo aver trascinato la Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) attraverso anni di leadership sbagliata e inappropriata, una gestione gravemente inefficiente e una generale mancanza di visione creativa, Rochelle Keene si è finalmente dimessa. A prendere il timone è Clive Kellner, che ora deve affrontare l'eccitante compito di portare JAG dal pantano di Keene a una nuova posizione di forza.

Kellner è noto nei circoli d'arte sudafricani come attore attivo nella seconda Biennale di Johannesburg, come rispettato curatore di spettacoli internazionali e per la galleria Camouflage, che ha creato con Fernando Alvim. Questo è un curriculum straordinario, uno che lo ha visto costruire un pubblico, raccogliere fondi, gestire un impressionante elenco di artisti e programmi internazionali, promuovere contatti internazionali, sviluppare conoscenze curatoriali e perfezionare il suo talento politico, l'ultimo requisito essenziale nella direzione di un'organizzazione questo è in parte burocratico e in parte creativo.

During a brief hiatus from Johannesburg, Clive and (MTN Art Institute’s) Ronel Kellner “moved to a considerably quieter environment in the country and assessed life from a different perspective”. The couple had a baby, “and lived a life based on an alternate value system not predicated on materialism, success and career, but one of community, religion and rediscovery”.

Now back in Jo’burg, Kellner feels “enormously empowered by taking the reigns of a 100-year-old institution that is about change as much as it is about continuity, legacy and status”. He adds: “Without vision, people perish.”

The key aspects of Kellner’s plan are “to develop a credible local and international institution by strengthening the curatorial and exhibitions departments and content, networking and raising the profile of the museum, building institutional capacity and taking care of in-house problems quickly and efficiently.”

Kellner also notes that it is important for JAG to scale down the number of smaller exhibitions, to “enable staff to spend time preparing, researching [and] perfecting the display systems.” This is in keeping with the requirements for the forthcoming shows like the Dumile Feni and William Kentridge retrospectives, potential blockbusters that lend themselves to increased sponsorship and partnership opportunities.Another aspect of his vision includes building partnerships with tertiary institutions, and setting in place internships to assist curators with exhibition research and conceptualisation, academic rigor and the overall preparation of exhibits.

“Raising the profile of the museum also means the museum has a role to play within a larger Johannesburg art context,” Kellner says. “South African museums are, and have been going through a historical process of transformation from European style state patronage (government whether local or national) to that of an American privatised donor model. We haven’t, however, quite realised it and have no tax incentive for investment in the arts, so we aren’t about to have a sudden influx of private patrons. However, knowing this enables me to establish a private-public sector partnership model that will allow the museum to function at its optimum by outsourcing certain activities and projects through partnership.”

In response to questions around JAG’s disjunctive relationship with its surroundings, Kellner states that, “I don’t think JAG in particular has a reputation with its surroundings; I think South Africa has a reputation with its surroundings. Look at our urban space and topography — Alexandra next to Sandton, decentralised CBD, new CBD’s being developed to the North, rich versus poor, the old apartheid versus new Africa identity and so on. We are merely symptomatic of a historical process of transference into a more legitimate society. It is rather a unique position for a museum to be in.”

“In essence,” Kellner concludes, “it is not necessarily about taste or opinion, but rather what constitutes artistic merit, and whether it benefits the public.”Brenton Maart is a Johannesburg-based artist and writer