Masterpiece of the Month: Looking at the Iziko South African National Gallery’s historical collection

Monthly articles give insight into ISANG collection ahead of gallery’s September reopening

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Iziko Museums of South Africa and Anna Tietze have initiated a new written series, titled Masterpiece of the Month. Here, distinguished University of Cape Town (UCT) art historian and author of A History of the Iziko South African National Gallery: Reflections on Art and National Identity (UCT Press, 2017), Anna Tietze presents an essay each month shining some light on an artwork of her choice from the ISANG’s collection.

Closed temporarily for a period of refurbishment and the repurposing of spaces, the Iziko South African National Gallery (ISANG) is set to reopen to the public on Heritage Day, 24 September 2022, with a comprehensive showcase, Breaking Down the Walls: 150 Years of Art Collecting at Iziko.

Curated by Iziko Curator of Historical Paintings and Sculpture, Andrew Lamprecht, the showcase presents an exploration of 150 years of art collecting at the South African National Gallery, and seeks to place this collection under scrutiny: how do we commemorate a collection founded on colonial collecting principles?

In looking to answer this question, and in creating a sustained build-up to the reopening of the ISANG and launch of Breaking Down the Walls, Masterpiece of the Month was created.

June’s edition of Masterpiece of the Month saw Tietze spotlight Azaria Mbatha’s 1965 The Revelation of St John. Mbatha, one of the more celebrated artists to be associated with the Rorke’s Drift Art Centre in Kwa-Zulu Natal, had The Revelation of St John acquired by the National Gallery following the artwork’s accolade as being the finest example of printmaking at the 1965 competitive exhibition, Art South Africa Today, organised by the Durban Art Gallery. As Tietze writes, “The acquisition was part of a deliberate move to broaden the scope of the gallery’s collection, make it more representative of the nation, and celebrate some of the fine work emerging from New black artists.”


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