Goodbye Top Star, Hello Alberton

#153. Watch Times photographer Marianne Schwankhart’s farewell to one of Johannesburg’s best known landmarks – The Top Star Drive-In. While the Top Star hasn’t operated for the past four years it will be the end of an era when you drive around the city centre from the east and don’t see that enormous movie screen rising above you on one of the city’s mine dumps.

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The documentary that caused all the trouble

#114. Laugh it Off. Last night we joined close on 4000 people for the Heavyweight Comedy jam at Emperor’s Palace.  The mood was good, the audience all warmed up. The jokes kept coming. “We used to drive on the left side of the road, now we drive on what’s left of the road”, said Al Prodgers.

“The Gautrain will have 200 people in each carriage and go 160km an hour. Do you think taxi drivers are worried about that?” And then there were the jokes about South African politics – from Helen Zille and her concubines to David Kau’s riff on Julius Malema’s woodwork grade. Judging by the laughter just saying the name Julius Malema is a punchline in this town. Continue reading

Brett Kebble causes a hush over Inanda

#107. Digest the sights and sounds of the Brett Kebble art collection auction. The auction, held on Thursday night, was eye-opening — not so much for the art that sold for close to R55-million, as for the patrons. Close to 1000 people seated themselves at Summer Place in dress suits and evening wear. Champagne flowed amongst plummy accents, stuffed shirts and fat cats. Ladies, and I use that term with intent, wore pearls and looked aristocratic. There were grande dames with silver bobs, lots of well-preserved blondes wearing updo’s and flaunting their jewels. The men all had good hair.

A friend later remarked “You could have heard a pin drop in Inanda on Thursday night”. The suburb, home to polo players, sundowners or “drinky-poohs”at the Country Club, was virtually vacated as the mink and manure set made their way across the road to Summer Place.

Marino Chiavelli’s legendary home was the setting. Perfect for big dreams and big money. Like Kebble, his wealth too was once legendary  (when I was a kid there was a radio advert that used to make fun of Chiavelli when he was still an A-listed celebrity that had someone speaking in an Italian accent and saying he was selling his Rolls-Royce because the ashtrays were full). And like Kebble his wealth was sadly not long-lasting.

The pre-sale hype had definitely paid off as more than 800 people registered to take part in what was touted as the “biggest auction on South African soil” by Graham of Graham’s Fine Art who strove to simulate London’s finest auction houses. Like a carefully choreographed movie set the room heaved with people, the crisp night air outside having little impact on the  rising warmth created by such a large and confined crowd. There were usherettes in black cocktail dresses, spotters and two-way radios to assist the auctioneer, 10 telephone lines in anticipation of bids from Bermuda and the Virgin Islands, big screens with live currency conversion and waves of murmering as the crowd responded to the bidding.

Lots of pageantry and spectacle. Very Joburg. The dust from this little mining camp still lingers though. You can feel it when the auctioneer needs to emphasise that the paintings are “clean”, untainted by the scandal and financial tricksiness of what Kebble left behind.

Only Daniel Craig and a director yelling “cut” were missing.

* For all the other news on the auction, click here.

Politics and SA Fashion Week

#99. Give fashion a chance. The political intrigue that has dominated the week with the Mbeki plotters being out- manouevred by the Zuma plotters and the now not-so-secret tapes made public has left me seeking refuge from big news about big men with big plots, and machinations worthy of a Shakespeare production. It is apparent that as a country we have been used as the setting for an enormous battle between political ambitions and … political ambitions, making it all but impossible to choose sides.

And so I can’t help savouring the memory of Friday night — before the latest political storm broke — at  the Turbine Hall in Newtown where two very different fashion constitutiencies were brought together by a shared love of detail, stripes, and … dressing up. Continue reading

Joburg on show

#97. Watch the performance. I was at the opening of the Joburg Art Fair last night along with a few hundred other people, all dressed up, mingling, eating teeny weensy snacks and looking at some spectacular pieces from SA’s top galleries and other sellers of contemporary African art. The Fair is worth a visit for many reasons — chief among them Penny Siopis’s haunting works made with glue, the gigantic graphite and wood pencil for R5600 (if I had the cash I would buy two plus the sharpener), Jane Alexander’s Security installation (even more affecting up close as the audience appears to be caged in every direction), Lyndi Sales’ delicate paper cut-outs depicting the world’s flight paths, and Mary Sibande’s “They don’t make them like they used to”, a witty and ironic take on the “maid becoming the madam” and the hands of a domestic worker bringing  Superman into being.

Mary Sibande

The representations so diverse, engaging and smart. I also loved Carl Becker’s Pierneef-like landscape with motocross rider and the brilliant collaborative work of William Kentridge, Deborah Bell and Robert Hodgins displayed by the Goodman Gallery. Add to that Araminta de Clermont’s Matric Queens photographs and of course the urban hip images of Nontsikelelo ‘Lolo’ Veleko and the Avant Car Guard’s Poor Man’s Picasso (below). Plus the astounding collection of contemporary South African furniture and other design objects — that alone is worth the visit.

There were a few speeches but all I could hear from where I was standing was Barbara Creecy, the MEC for Arts, Culture Sport and other weirdly associated things in the province Continue reading

Newtown by night

#94. Go to Newtown. Saturday night was spent in Joburg’s cultural precinct or more accurately high above it in a building that overlooks the M1 freeway and used to be a cold storage facility next to the city’s fruit market (the Market Theatre).

The building on Henry Nxumalo Street now houses the Go Go bar, a hip and retro hangout that on Saturday night was filled with nostalgia for the 1970’s. Go go girls, killer pimps, disco queens and Abba lookalikes filled the place (for a 40+1 party) and “Did the Hustle”. Continue reading