The provocative South African photographer celebrates 70 years of work in this retrospective
The Museum of Contemporary Art has closed the doors on one of its most successful exhibitions ever, Pipilotti Rist: Sip My Ocean. The blockbuster show, featuring large-scale light, video works and installations, was a veritable explosion of colour and became a social media sensation over the summer, with 110,000 people visiting and Instagramming their way through.
But for next year's big summer exhibition, the MCA is changing directions drastically and presenting an exhibition of mostly black-and-white photos by South African photographer David Goldblatt.
If you're not part of the visual arts or photography worlds, you probably won't have heard of Goldblatt, whose images have traced the changing face of South Africa from the start of apartheid at the end of the 1940s through to 1991, when it was dismantled. But MCA director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor says most hadn't heard of Pipilotti Rist before her exhibition, the MCA's contribution to this summer's Sydney International Art Series, which had previously had exhibitions from heavyweights like Anish Kapoor, Yoko Ono and Grayson Perry. Macgregor describes the Rist exhibition as a big risk that paid off.
"We really were a little concerned about it," she says. "It's not a name with a wide resonance outside of the art world – but how wrong were we?"
Macgregor is hoping that the MCA will be able to attract a similar audience of people under 35 to engage with Goldblatt's work, but she says it will be a significant challenge given the massive gap between what visitors experienced this summer and what they'll experience next year.
"We tried to analyse what was so exciting about [Pipilotti Rist] when you experienced it. It was uplifting and it made you feel happy, there was a lot of colour, there was light, movement, and it was experiential. So what are we doing next year? Black-and-white photography of South Africa, which is highly political."
Goldblatt started his career in photography in 1948, the year that apartheid began, when he was just 18. While much of his more recent work is awash with colour, it's the black-and-white photography, demonstrating the racial segregation and oppression that came with apartheid, that is his best-known work.
"You need to work to look at a black-and-white photograph. It doesn't immediately come to you. Colour is much more sensuous, sweet and welcoming," he said in a 2013 interview. "[For] apartheid and the anger and the fear that it stirred, there was no other medium than black and white."
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