In order for a contemporary art gallery to be successful it cannot have an overt political, religious or ideological agenda, the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg said on Friday.

“I regret the divisiveness that the exhibition has caused, and reiterate that it is was never my intention to cause hurt to any person,” gallery director Liza Essers said, referring to the controversy over Brett Murray's painting “The Spear”.

“However, the nature of contemporary art is that works are often controversial.”

The gallery was responding in a statement to an African National Congress application to have the painting, depicting president Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed, taken down.

The matter was heard in the Johannesburg High Court on Thursday and was indefinitely postponed. Another date would be set and another full bench constituted.

“The Spear” generated national debate when it was shown at the gallery last week. The artwork formed part of Murray's exhibition “Hail to the Thief II”.

The gallery closed its doors after the portrait was defaced by two people on Tuesday. Both were arrested. A third person was apprehended outside the premises after trying to spray paint the word “respect” on a wall. All three appeared in court and had their cases postponed.

“Protecting the integrity and the neutrality of the gallery space is paramount. The Goodman Gallery is a space where the rich and diverse voices of our country can be heard,” said Essers.

Outside the court on Thursday afternoon ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe asked the crowd to march on the Goodman Gallery on Tuesday in protest.

“The march must be successful and it must send a clear message. African culture is not inferior. We must protect African-ness,” Mantashe told the crowd.

He echoed SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande's call to boycott City Press newspaper, which published a picture of the painting on its website, and has thus far refused to take it down. - Sapa