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"The Advancement of Art: The South African Society of Artists and its Exhibitors, 1902 -1950"
2003-12-15 until 2003-04-27
South African National Gallery
Cape Town, , ZA

South African art of the period 1900 -1950 has had a very bad press over the past 50 years, and art of the colonial era is generally disparaged as a matter of course. All of which makes it quite surprising that the new exhibition at the SANG, The Advancement of Art: The South African Society of Artists and its Exhibitors, 1902 -1950, is already proving to be an overwhelming success with overseas and local visitors, even competing with the much-publicised William Kentridge exhibition for attention.

This new exhibition opens a fascinating window on the early 20th-century art world of the Cape, and deals with the membership and activtities of the SA Society of Artists, South Africas longest surviving and oldest organization for practising artists, which celebrates its centenary this year. Founded in 1897, and reinitiated in 1902, it was the first to organise annual large-scale exhibitions at Cape Towns Drill Hall and City Hall, long before there was a National Gallery, and long before many of the art institutions we take for granted today existed.

There are 146 works on display, with a richly illustrated 56-page catalogue, all of which reconstruct the network of artistic relationships in Cape Town from the late Victorian era onwards. As South Africas oldest city, Cape Town was the first to develop a sense of an artistic community, and the SA Society of Artists was formed in response to its professional needs, and as a support for some of its financially-disadvantaged members. The exhibition has drawn on the collections of Parliament, UCT, the Cape Town Unicity, the SA National Gallery, Iziko Museums of Cape Town as well as many smaller museums and private collections to weave a rich tapestry of images and relationships in early South African art. The point made by this exhibition is that the art of the colonial era can be looked at in fresh ways, and that the interpretation and display of this material is not so much about living in an oppressive past, but about enlivening that past in interesting ways that can throw light upon the issues of our present.

Constance Penstone
SA Railways Poster: Cape Town as a Holiday resort, (c.1906)
watercolour on paper

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