Johannesburg Art Gallery Closes Its Doors After Slipping Into Disrepair

The alarm was first raised about the state of the museum in 1989.

The Johannesburg Art Gallery, which boasts the largest art collection in Africa, has closed due to rain damage. Now, staff and local officials are speaking out about prior mismanagement.

The Johannesburg Art Gallery, which houses works by the likes of Édouard Manet, Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, and Goya has been slowly slipping into disrepair since the roof began to perish in 1989. Local councilor Nonhlanhla Sifumba, who made the call to close the museum, has spoken out criticizing the past administrations for a lack of care.

“We could not risk the lives of our employees after emergency services, occupational health and safety, and risk management were all called to the scene and advised that the facility be closed,” she told News24 when the story broke at the beginning of February 2017. “It must be noted that leaking in the gallery dates back to 1989 and attempts to repair it over the years have failed,” she added.

In addition to the roof succumbing to general wear and tear, thieves have been stealing copper finishing on the building, thus weakening the overall structure. In order for repairs to start now, the building will have to be structurally assessed.

“The previous administration left the facility in shambles,” Sifumba told Quartz Africa. “Nothing was done to upgrade and maintain the facility despite millions being allocated for this purpose prior to its 2015 centenary celebrations.”

According to Sifumba, the additional work completed for the centennial was under par and this is what caused the museum’s closure earlier this month.

A silver lining to the situation is that the new museum management is taking the opportunity to change the ethos of the museum by adding more contemporary African focus to the collection of mainly Western art.

“I think it’s in exactly the kind of place a public institution should be,” Tara Weber, the gallery’s registrar told Quartz of the future plans for the museum, which include an educational focus and a project which would see art brought to poorer communities in the city.

“…when you have a historical building like this that might have references to western history, it’s important that we show more contemporary and pan-African art,” Weber said.

Given the size and quality of the museum’s collection, only 10 percent of which is on view at any time, the renovation of the space is of the utmost importance. The museum’s new management wants to have at least part of the museum open by May 2017 when they will stage an exhibition of work by Mozambican artist Ângela Ferreira.

The refurbishing also comes at a time that the South African Art scene is expanding with the addition of Zeitz MOCAA, a contemporary art museum due for completion in Cape Town in 2018.

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