Book Review: Something to Keep the Coffee Table Company

The season's best oversized books

Something to Keep the Coffee Table Company

South African Art Now

by Sue Williamson
Collins Design, 320 pp., $65

Don't assume by the title of this book that this is some lighthearted tour for armchair ethnographers or whimsical directory to a certain antipodean aesthetic. Author/curator Sue Williamson is one of her country's preeminent artists and critics, as well as a respected antiapartheid activist. The title may very well be a riff on (or jab at) the book African Art Now by Italian Jean Pigozzi, an internationally acclaimed art collector whose exuberant personal tastes and collection-lending is said to have greatly influenced the Western concept of contemporary African art, somewhat to the dismay of numerous experts such as Williamson. That said, the heft and gravity of Williamson's 320-pager may far exceed the typical mission of the coffeetable genre; while quite lovely to look at, this work is more likely to warm, nay, singe a spot in laps and proper libraries as much for its compelling commentary (by Williamson, curator Okwui Enwezor, Performa Biennial Director RoseLee Goldberg, Sir Elton John, and Nobel laureate/beloved ZA author Nadine Gordimer) as for its crucial and often jarring visuals. Some 97 artists are presented, some more than once and at different points in their careers and on the timeline. The book's first third is titled "The Last Century," a view of apartheid-era and immediately post-1994-election art: South African art "then," if you will, as essential context for South African art "now." The last two-thirds are dedicated to that very titular distinction: South African Art Now, a colorful posttraumatic history of the emergent postapartheid nation through the eyes of the artists whose own roles became manifest in a revolution.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Kate X Messer
The Gay Place: It's Aliiive!
It's Aliiive!
You can't keep a Gay Place down; just ask Sarah Marloff

Jan. 20, 2016

Gay Place: I'm Not Gonna Miss You
Gay Place: I'm Not Gonna Miss You
K(X) THX BYE

Jan. 15, 2016

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Sue Williamson, South African art, Okwui Enwezor, RoseLee Goldberg, Elton John, Nadine Gordimer

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle