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“Mountain Landscape” by Ivan Vladislavic Adds to Debate: Is Pierneef’s Work Relevant in Contemporary South Africa?

101 DetectivesThe FollyDouble NegativeThe Restless SupermarketThe Loss Library

 
A short story by Ivan Vladislavić – published in his latest anthology, 101 Detectives – has found itself included in a larger debate about the stigma attached to, or increasingly detached from, artworks by internationally renowned iconic South African artist Pierneef.

Sue Blaine writes in her review of the current Standard Bank Art Gallery exhibition titled “JH Pierneef: A Space for Landscape” for Financial Mail that the November purchase of a Pierneef landscape for R11.9 million made one thing clear: “the painter’s work sells, despite some people dismissing him as an Afrikaner nationalist hero”.

“Its main premise is that, while Pierneef was a product of his time, he was not painting paeans to the Afrikaner nation,” Blaine writes of the collection on display in Johannesburg until 12 September. This is the first major exhibition of his work in 30 years.

Read the article:

What is true is that the nationalist government in the 1960s adopted Pierneef as its artistic hero. It’s also true that he took official commissions — among his most famous works are the 32 panels (unveiled in 1932) that were displayed in the concourse of the then new Park Station in Johannesburg.

Van Rensburg says that one way to read Pierneef’s work is to say that, like any other artist, he “just wanted to make a buck”.

“It was as difficult for Irma Stern, Maggie Laubser and Wolf Kibel to break into a very conservative orthodoxy as it was for him. The reigning orthodoxy was the 19th century English-Dutch one. That was what people bought.”

Pierneef’s work sells well because what he produced, over and over, was “undeniably an SA landscape”, says Peffers. “You can almost taste the dust in your mouth.”

What does this have to do with Vladislavić? His perceptive story “Mountain Landscape” is included in the exhibition catalogue. It is written as a black CEO named HK Khoza’s defence of a Pierneef piece hanging on his office wall – refuting the notion that the artist’s work is to be reserved as Afrikaner nostalgia.

Read an old article by fine artist and author Andries Bezuidenhout in which he explores Vladislavić’s story and the main character’s reason for loving Pierneef’s work so, questioning the writer’s own struggle in identifying with the art in question.

Bezuidenhout also shares a quote from “Mountain Landscape” in which Khoza explains why he swapped the photograph of Tokyo Sexwale and a soccer team for the seemingly inappropriate painting:

 

“I have spent some time looking at Mountain Landscape. Occasionally, I bring a cup of tea in here, turn my back on our much envied city panorama, and simply gaze at that square of paint on canvas. There are golden foothills, soaring peaks in purple and mauve, storm clouds advancing or retreating. I get quite lost in it… Afterwards, when I return to the present… I feel as if I’ve been away to some high place where the air is purer. I feel quite refreshed. I cannot speak with authority – one day at the Louvre will hardly atone for a lifetime of ignorance – but I suspect this capacity to refresh the senses and the spirit is one of the marks of great art.”

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Image courtesy of 5th Avenue Auctions

 

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