China Girl claims first victim

Is Riason Naidoo, big brush at the SA National Gallery, the first victim of Vladimir Tretchikoff’s China Girl installed at Delaire Graff last year amidst much media hype and public interest (below)?

Riason issued a press release earlier this month. “I write to inform you that I have reached the end of my 5-year-contract as Director of Iziko Art Collections, which concerns the South African National Gallery & Old Town House museums under the umbrella of Iziko Museums of South Africa. It has come as somewhat of a surprise to me that I’ve been requested by Iziko to vacate my position and it is unfortunate that Iziko did not see it fit to extend my contract. I do believe that the actions of Iziko are unfair in this regard and will be looking to contest this decision further.”

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One of Riason’s crimes was commissioning Andrew Lamprecht to curate the controversial exhibition Tretchikoff: A People’s Painter.  At the time, Riason argued “we want to finally acknowledge Tretchikoff as a prominent artist in the country’s history and to acknowledge the millions who loved his work.” A red flag to the art elite for whom Tretchy and his works are anethema. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Russian as we both share a birthday with BJ Vorster, a former Prime Minister and State President of the old SA. By chance, I met his granddaughter at Societi Bistro on Monday night.

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China Girl subsequently popped up at the Cape Town Art Fair earlier this year and was a star attraction. Tretchy’s lasting fame is perhaps more for popularizing art prints than for any artistic merit his paintings may have had. In fact I think the prints of China Girl are far superior to the original. It’s the René Magritte effect. Hard to believe that this image inspired Iggy Pop and David Bowie to compose the melancholy post-punk masterpiece China Girl. Or did it?

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Anyway, now that wineries are climbing onto the fine art bandwagon at dizzying speed as they embrace wine tourism, it’s probably worth pointing out that prints are the fine art analogues of bulk wine. Mass produced and beloved of the masses, there is no terroir there, as Gertrude Stein memorably noted of Oakland, California. No sense of place.

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I’m opening an exhibition called Terroir at the Liebrecht Gallery in Somerset West this evening and a dozen artists – one for each wine appellation in the Western Cape – will be exhibiting original works full of their own personal terroir. They’ve also been asked to choose two wines which should be interesting and I’m dying to see how many of them will be terroir tipples – wines from a single farm as opposed to those made from grapes bought-in from multiple appellations. For the terroir argument is not widely publicized in SA which comes as no surprise when you note that ad spend is inversely correlated to terroir. But its a debate worth having, as is a discussion on the future of Riason.

A rematch is needed. Let’s have a wine show and ask each winemaker to chose two art works. Any bets on how many Tretchy’s will be chosen?