The University of Pretoria (UP) is the custodian of an extraordinary collection of South African and European art, so much so that it is fast becoming an art destination for the City of Tshwane. As such, the University of Pretoria (UP) Museums in close partnership with the recently launched Javett Art Centre at UP (Javett-UP) – are continuously working towards ensuring that art is accessible to all.
The UP Museums is aiming to showcase the University’s exceptional art collection of more than 2 500 works by curating a space that both the UP community and the public at large can enjoy and be inspired by. The collection includes paintings, graphics and sculptures which are currently spread across the University’s campuses in departments, faculty offices and public spaces.
“The UP Museums has launched its ambitious Strategic Master Plan for 2020 to 2025, and a new home in the Old Arts Building for the institution’s art collection is just one of the many exciting developments on the horizon,” says Dr Sian Tiley-Nel, Head of the UP Museums. Part of the strategy is also expanding the field of art conservation, and the UP Museums is fortunate to have an in-house professional art conservator.
The art collection ranges from 20th-century pieces to contemporary art from the 21st century, and includes works by artists such as Walter Battiss, Bettie Cilliers-Barnard, William Kentridge, David Koloane, Leonard Matsoso, Tommy Motswai, Frans Oerder, Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, Alexis Preller, Irma Stern, Allina Ndebele and Diane Victor.
In addition to UP’s impressive art collection, the Ceramic Galleries, the Mapungubwe Gallery in the Old Arts Building – which houses the notable Mapungubwe Collection – and the Sculpture Gallery in the Old Merensky Building link up along Tukkie Lane, which is proposed to become a new ‘art street’ that leads down to the south of Hatfield Campus towards Javett-UP.
UP received its first artwork in 1931 – a painting by Maggie Laubser titled, Arum Lilies. At the time, the University utilised the MacFadyen Memorial Hall for exhibitions. The collection expanded to about 300 artworks, and by 1957 a committee was established for new acquisitions. In 1973 the collection was inventoried for the first time, and recognised as an institutional and research asset.
“Museums have become more active participants in our society and communities,” Dr Tiley-Nel says. “This means there is much-needed financial support for university museums to fulfill their role in society.” University museums make unique contributions to the academic, social and community work of a university. They promote the public profile of universities and serve as stewards of nationally significant collections that contribute to the overall arts and cultural sector of the economy of the country.
The UP Museums has an important role in supporting and contributing to new research, and in inspiring students and enhancing learning. For example, more than 10 academic modules have objects-based learning, which is the active use of museum collections embedded into their teaching curricula.
The proposed new art gallery will highlight artworks by established as well as lesser-known local artists, and would exhibit new annual acquisitions as well as possible temporary loaned collections. This new gallery will be developed alongside another proposed gallery, which will be dedicated to the indigenous and trade glass beads from the Mapungubwe Collection, bringing UP’s art collections in a total of 12 galleries to the University community as well as the wider public.
Meeting such ambitious objectives would not be possible without funding, and The UP Museums requires the support of individual patrons and corporate benefactors to make these galleries a reality. Rather than simply building new galleries, The UP Museums is looking towards building new sustainable partnerships with the view that museum art is an investment in the long term.
We remain confident that financial support will be generated to help modernise UP’s museums so that they remain a mainstay – all great universities have great museums.
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This article also appeared in Alma Matters Winter 2020 newsletter, posted 17 July 2020