Since November 1st, David Goldblatt is presenting ‘Structures of Dominion and Democracy’, his new series of photographs at the Goodman Gallery which was described by Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer as “an extraordinary visual history of a country and its people.” The pictures are black and white and tend to present a centralised (classical) composition. There are no sitter or human figures but architectonic ‘protagonists’ which are presented as the crystallisation of major political and epochal events.
Goodman’s press release states: ‘For over three decades Goldblatt has travelled South Africa photographing sites weighted with historical narrative: monuments, as well as private, religious and secular sites that reveal something about the people who built them.These sites also allow us a glimpse into the everyday. Each place is a repository, a landscape containing an epic story that has involved whole communities. The experience is sometimes told through the memorialising of remarkable individuals. Titled Structures of Dominion & Democracy, the exhibition traverses two distinct eras in our history. Instead of the word ‘Baasskap’, Goldblatt refers to the era of inequality as Dominion’
But, Goldblatt notes, the new exhibition concentrates on, but is not entirely devoted to the period after the fall of apartheid: “I’m mainly showing Democracy. And the reason for this is that people here are familiar with Baaskap and the period of apartheid, but they are not very familiar with looking at what is emerging now.” These images aim at ‘looking at transforming spaces, offering offers us a way of understanding the transformation of a people. Having said this, this kind of art entails an a priori understanding of certain political facts which justify the image as ‘art’.
At the moment I am working on The Pill dedicated to Latinamerican artists Allora y Calzadilla (Puerto Rico) and Adrian Villar Rojas (Argentina) and a similar mechanism occurs. All the relevant information to signify the object as art seems to lie outside of the visual object (installation/sculpture) and it is justified through big political statements that are presented as self-explanatory. It is as if the presence of an object broadly associated with a political topic in the context of an art gallery automatically injects value into that object to the point of transforming it into art. I am saying this because the art of Goldblatt does not lie in the formal aspects of his photographs but in the way he points out at urban objects (and by this, I mean, ANY object) as a vehicle of signification of those grandiose political topics. I am truly and honestly unconvinced by all this. J A T
WATCH THE PILL THAT REVIEWS THE UBS GLOBAL INITIATIVE ON LATINAMERICA AT THE GUGGENHEIM