Collector’s Focus: Nudes in the Sanlam Art Collection
Norval Foundation’s Collector’s Focus is a series of exhibitions and talks that highlight the role of collectors of visual art and design in shaping culture. It was established by Elana Brundyn, CEO of Norval Foundation, to recognise the unique contributions that collectors play in the preservation and evolution of culture. Norval Foundation continues to work with a broad range of local, national and international collections, owned by private individuals and corporate organisations, to consider their impact on knowledge and research in the arts. In line with Norval Foundation’s mission, the objects selected for display from these collections will predominantly be from the 20th and 21st centuries, and will be presented within dynamic exhibitions which highlight the collector’s or organisation’s particular viewpoint on visual art and design. Special attention will be paid to the context of collecting and how it may have informed what objects were acquired. Both internal and external curators are invited to work with a collection that Brundyn identifies in consultation with that curator. Talks with collectors, artists, designers, curators, academics and cultural practitioners will provide a range of perspectives on the role of the collector within society.
While a few large scale collections are publicly accessible, both locally and globally, many other high quality collections are only on view in private residences, corporate offices or are simply in storage. This series of exhibitions provides a platform where artworks in these collections can be viewed, discussed and appreciated, honouring the contributions that collectors have made in supporting and promoting artists and designers, and is an opportunity to share with the public the vital role that collectors play.
More broadly, the process of collecting is perhaps a fundamental aspect of human nature even as it differs between cultures, periods and individuals. As tastes, times, and circumstances change, collecting habits evolve and adapt. Personal and unique to their individual owners, visual art and design collections are a way in which important milestones and memories can be crystallised into a tangible and personal archive or diary. At times, collecting may reflect admiration for a particular style, artist, designer or period in history.
Central to this programme is an understanding that art collecting is not necessarily a privilege reserved for a select few. Instead, from humble beginnings and in unlikely places, a passion for art can lead to a lifetime of collecting. According to Hilla von Rebay,
The importance of the collection does not lie in its valuable pictures alone, for anyone with great wealth may acquire the most famous ones. The real value of a collection lies in its organic growth and selection, expressing the personality of the collector.
Hilla von Rebay, artist and inaugural Director of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, USA)
COLLECTOR’S FOCUS: NUDES IN THE SANLAM ART COLLECTION
The Sanlam Art Collection came into being on March 9, 1965 when the Sanlam Board approved the acquisition of 12 paintings by well-known artists for the production of a prestige calendar in the coming year. The motivation for the establishment of an art collection multifaceted and included recognising the company’s role in the communities it was doing business successfully, as well encouraging South African artists to produce good quality work. That art could develop into a good investment was also acknowledged. By 1969 the collection had grown to well over a hundred works. It now consists of some 2000 items dating from 1874 to 2015 in a diversity of traditional and contemporary media.
From the beginning Sanlam engaged the service of acknowledged independent advisors to identify appropriate acquisitions for the collection. The guiding principle has been to build a representative collection of South African art, from the later 19th century to the present. Sanlam continues to acquire significant images by established and emerging artists in South Africa.
The collection is seen not only in Sanlam offices but is showcased in the Sanlam Art Gallery at Sanlam’s head office in Bellville and at the Sanlam Art Lounge located in its regional office at 11 Alice Lane Sandton. Both galleries are open to the public.
Exhibitions drawn from the Sanlam Art Collection and in cooperation with public and private lenders are organised on a regular basis and toured to galleries across South Africa. For many South Africans the Sanlam Art Collection exhibitions was their first encounter with art and the memory of this persists.
It is not surprising then that collecting and showing art has become one of the activities which distinguishes Sanlam from other companies. The Sanlam Art Collection has grown beyond its function as office decoration or as a marketing tool for the company and has become an appreciated and appreciating asset. Critical for a successful corporation is the ability of its employees to think freely, creatively, and to present new ideas and criticism without fear of being ignored or reprimanded. In the office environment symbolically at least the display of artworks that challenge preconceived ideas about what art is, indicates management’s commitment to the free and creative thinking.
So long as the art collection continues to grow with the acquisition of artworks that, exemplify South Africa’s rich artistic heritage and its rapidly transforming present, it will retain its relevance to company and the society it operates in for generations to come.
Nudes in the Sanlam Art Collection is curated by Elana Brundyn and Owen Martin and will be on view at the Norval Foundation, Cape Town until July 21, 2019.
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