JAG celebrates 100 years of art in the heart of the inner city

JAG celebrates 100 years of art in the heart of the inner cityThe 100-year-old JAG building was designed by colonial-era architect Sir Edwin Luytens.

Six exhibitions, specially curated to mark the centenary of the Joburg Art Gallery, offer Joburgers the opportunity to rediscover a world-class facility in the heart of a fast transforming inner city.

Joburgers get arty at JAG's 100th birthday partyJoburgers get arty at JAG's 100th birthday party on Tuesday, 10 November (Image: www.facebook.com/FriendsofJAG)The city's art stars, culture lovers, urban trendsetters and Afropolitan glitterati descended on inner city Joburg on the evening of Tuesday, 10 November to celebrate the centenary of the Johannesburg Art Gallery, also known as JAG.

The 100th birthday celebrations kicked off with a huge art party at the century-old city landmark, accompanying the opening of six exhibitions of work drawn from the gallery's permanent collection.

The 100-year-old building, designed by colonial-era architect Sir Edwin Luytens, houses the largest art collection in Africa, combining international with African and traditional with contemporary works, and mixing sculptures and paintings with tapestries, etchings, photography and multimedia works.

The Johannesburg Art Gallery pre-1939The Johannesburg Art Gallery pre-1939. (Image: twitter.com/artthisway)It houses the largest art collection in Africa, combining international with African and traditional with contemporary works, and mixing sculptures and paintings with tapestries, etchings, photography and multimedia works.

It's a massive treasure trove, amounting to over 9 000 works of art - so large that only about one-tenth of it is on display in JAG's 15 exhibition halls and sculpture gardens at any one time.

A people-friendly, walkable inner city

And it's located in the heart of the inner city, the focus of an urban regeneration drive, spearheaded by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), which started in 2000 and has been gaining momentum ever since.

The Park Station Precinct, which includes Joubert Park where JAG is situated, was one of the priority areas targeted by the JDA's Inner City Commuter Links project. Since 2010/11, the project has successfully transformed the precinct into a people-friendly urban environment with safe walking space, managed parking, markets for informal traders, and improved circulation around taxi, bus and rail facilities.

The Johannesburg Art Gallery todayThe Johannesburg Art Gallery today. (Image: www.joburg.org.za)The commuter link from Park Station, along Wanderers and Bok Streets and through Joubert Park to Rea Vaya's Joburg Art Gallery BRT station on Twist Street, underwent a complete upgrade. This included reconfigured pavements and parking spaces, and the installation of new paving, outdoor furniture and lighting both along the streets and in the park, where JAG's entrance area was also revamped.

South of the gallery end of Joubert Park, the Noord Street Market was upgraded, and the railway embankments adjacent to Noord Street were stabilised. And east of Joubert Park, a linear market was created along King George Street between Noord and De Villiers Streets.

For those looking to visit JAG - it's open to the public free of charge six days a week - the result is that it couldn't be easier to access through public transport. Rea Vaya buses stop almost on the gallery's doorstep, while the Gautrain from Sandton and Rosebank to Park Station leaves visitors with a quick, safe walk to the gallery.

'A lively hub of Africa'

JAG reaches out to the communityJAG reaches out to the community: a workshop in the gallery's courtyard for children from Lapeng Creche in Joubert Park. (Image: twitter.com/artthisway)JAG chief curator Antoinette Murdoch, asked recently about lingering middle-class fears over venturing into the inner city, told the Sunday Times' Tymon Smith: "This area is transforming, like Braamfontein, like Newtown, like Maboneng. I think this area should be seen as a lively hub of Africa. If you go to any other African country, this is what it looks like. This is Africa, deal with it."

With the regeneration drive gaining momentum across the inner city, plans well advanced for the development of an African Food and Culture Hub near Park Station, and a R24-million restoration of the JAG building nearing completion, the gallery's future is looking bright.

Murdoch told the Sunday Times that the centenary celebrations were an opportunity both for Joburgers to rediscover the world-class art facility in their own city, and for the gallery to "really analyse and understand new audiences" both local and international.

Centenary exhibitions

From Albert Adams' 'South Africa' triptychFrom Albert Adams' 'South Africa' triptych, part of the centenary exhibition 'South African art from 1940-1975'. (Image: twitter.com/artthisway)The six centenary exhibitions of work from JAG's collection, running through March 2016, are as follows:

  • "South African art from 1940-1975" is a chronologically exhibition of the best of South Africa's mid-20th century art.
  • "Pastoral Pieces: Significant African Objects from JAG's historical collections", showcases significant pieces from all sub-collections of the gallery's African Traditional collection.
  • "Moments in a Metropolis" celebrates and interrogates JAG's defining context - the city - through artworks on paper, including printmaking and photography.
  • "Digital Underground" will fill the entire Meyer-Pienaar basement gallery with electronic and digital artwork.
  • "Pre-Raphaelites and Their Circle" features all pre-Raphaelite work in JAG's collection, as well as the work of some pre-Raphaelite contemporaries.
  • "Encore: Public Favourites", an exhilarating of some of the gallery's best loved works, includes masterpieces by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Penny Siopis.