First impressions: Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation


In retrospect, the very understated launch of the Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation, and the way in which they plan to roll out exhibitions and how they will be viewed here - only in small numbers booked in advance - prefigures how the art-world might be operating post Covid-19.


In my article for Wanted I shared my first impressions of this new institution, which in many ways has been conceived or informed by some of the perceived mistakes or ways in which other private art foundations in South Africa have manifested.


Rumors of a new museum to house and present Gordon Schachat’s burgeoning art collection have been circulating for almost a decade. As such, its existence had become somewhat part of Joburg’s urban mythology.
It is always satisfying to see a myth overturned, particularly one such as this. As public intellectual Achille Mbembe noted during his address on the opening night of this new art institution: “Joburg is a big city that needs a big art institution.” The Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation (JCAF) is not exactly “big” — with only 450m² of exhibition space. Well, that is if you compare it to its contemporaries in Cape Town — the Norval Foundation (which has nine galleries) or Zeitz Mocaa (6 000m²). However, its director, Clive Kellner, reiterates that JCAF was not conceived as a “populist” destination and quality will always supersede quantity.
This approach has, so far, manifested in every communication and the first event. Refreshingly, the 100 or so in the by-invitation-only audience were “handpicked” due to their iconoclastic approach to culture (according to Kellner), rather than their social or art-world status. Everyone gathered for a lecture — and not a sprawling VIP party designed for Instagram feeds.
The lecture was delivered by someone representing a dialogue with the “global south” (as per the term on the invitation) — Indian-born, US-based academic Arjun Appadurai — that was intended to shift the focus of the opening to “ideas”, says Kellner.
“There is little good intellectual discourse between South Africa and the global south,” he says.

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