4 April - 19 May 2012


Trade Routes Over Time

Diller + Scofidio, Stan Douglas, Olafur Eliasson, Ângela Ferreira, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Pierre Huyghe, Isaac Julien, Wangechi Mutu, Odili Donald Odita, Jo Ractliffe, Yinka Shonibare MBE and Penny Siopis.

STEVENSON is pleased to present Trade Routes Over Time, the first installment of the gallery's Trade Routes Project, marking the 15th anniversary of the second - and last - Johannesburg Biennale.

The biennale organised by Okwui Enwezor in 1997 was a pivotal moment in the presentation of contemporary art in South Africa. The response on the ground was marked (and arguably marred) by tension between the local and the international and, in essential ways, the immensity of the achievement of the biennale team went unacknowledged. Combined with a fraught relationship to its principal funder, the City of Johannesburg, these tensions illustrated an event that was, or so it appeared, out of sync with its context.

At the time, the Johannesburg Biennale was at the cusp of an explosion of biennales in likely and unlikely places. In a Frieze review of the exhibition, Christian Haye presaged this development: 'The effect of having so many shows will inevitably produce a discourse of its own ... The next couple of years will see biennales in Berlin, China and a theatre near you.' The ubiquity of biennales is now a given, and to critique it has become platitudinous, but in 1997 (and before in 1995) the notion of a biennale in Johannesburg was still a radical one.

When the biennale is invoked in South Africa in the present day, it is mostly as an illustration of the country's seeming inability to realise a recurring international exhibition. Its theme, Trade Routes: History and Geography, as well as the positions it staked out, the structure it invented, and the debates it sparked, appear to have been forgotten, although they have significantly influenced most large-scale international exhibitions since.

In this exhibition, some artists present the same works that they showed in 1997. These are works that are central to these artists' development but have not been widely seen. Other artists show works that might be familiar to international audiences but are not part of our local consciousness. The three South African artists present new works made especially for this exhibition. Taken together, Trade Routes Over Time explores both how a contextual shift of 15 years affects the way one approaches works of art, and how the development of these artists' careers over time affects the way one looks at the second Johannesburg Biennale.

Trade Routes Over Time will be followed, in the course of 2012, by two further exhibitions (the second at Stevenson Johannesburg in July, the third our end-of-year show in Cape Town) and a publication. The Trade Routes Project provides an opportunity to revisit, both literally and figuratively, an important exhibition whose impact on the global art world can still be felt today, as well as a place that continues to play a unique role in the trade routes, history and geography of the world.

Click here for an extended version of the introductory text.

The exhibition opens on Wednesday 4 April, from 6 to 8pm.

Hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday from 10am to 1pm.