Ministry of Transport by Fred Clarke
Ministry of Transport by Fred Clarke

Diane de Beer

It all started with the building, Cornerhouse at 77 Commissioner Street, slap-bang in the middle of the Joburg CBD. Johan Stegman and Allen Laing live there in a cottage on the roof and discovered the owners wanted to add commercial value to the property and their lease wasn’t going to be renewed.

They decided to change his mind by turning it into an exhibition space and showing him it will also make money. At the same time as they made this discovery, artists Diane Victor and Gordon Froud joined them for dinner that evening.

“Diane said she had always wanted to exhibit in a dome, somehow reminiscent of London’s St Paul’s,” explains Laing who is also an artist currently working in a foundry where he gets to work with artists like William Kentridge. Stegman is an engineer, but also a part-time artist.

The first exhibition is titled Joburg Joburg – Responding to the Centre which opened this past weekend and can be viewed this coming weekend again. Victor and Louis Olivier present solo bodies of work alongside a number of established and young artists “responding” through various media, and an open air sculpture exhibition curated by Gordon Froud.

“We have about 30 artists participating and about 100 works exhibited,” says an excited Laing.

Part of the attraction of the space is the rooftop “with its majestic views of Joburg’s Postmodern metropolis including some of the finest Art Deco buildings in the world” notes one of a gang of curators, artist Gordon Froud. This makes it ideal for sculpture shows. The magnificent copper dome that includes exhibition space was earmarked for Victor who created specifically for not only the exhibition, but also the space.

The other featured artist is Olivier, whose work will be shown in the gallery space, and both artists took cognisance of the city as a landscape.

Anyone who has been on one of the CBD’s rooftops will know the views are pretty spectacular – night or day. The showcase of contemporary sculptors includes established artists like Guy du Toit and Richard Forbes and others like Lukas Thobejane, Isabel Mertz and Lwandiso Njara who are emergent stars.

It is an unthemed showing, but has been curated with the city as a backdrop.

“There’s an urban grittiness reflected in Colleen Winters’s giant crows, its variety of cultures as reflected (literally) in the shiny surfaces of Elsa Ingerel’s work, or in the hard-edged industrial manufacturing of my Cone Viruses,” says Froud.

The show also promises to demonstrate the depth of 3D talent that is emerging and established from the Joburg/Pretoria region.

Many former students from artists like Victor are also involved in showing their work and the hope is that this happening will prove that this is a viable space.

“It’s going to be an experience,” explains Stuart Trent from Pretoria’s Trent Gallery who is also part of the curatorial team.

He was talking about the opening this past weekend, but also about this weekend’s viewings on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 3pm.

Park in the street outside Cornerhouse, or at Graffiti Square (cnr Rissik and Fox streets).

“We didn’t just want white halls or another gallery space where paintings simply hang,” explains Laing. “We wanted the space to be as exciting as the art.”

But to make it happen, they were clever enough to work as a curatorial team of four and to gain from the expertise of Trent and Froud.