The UNISA Gallery's Collection has embraced art from all South African citizens from its inception. The collection was initiated in the early 1960s by Prof. Karin Skawran, the first former Head of the Department of History of Art and Fine Arts, in collaboration with Prof. Steyn, the Head of the Department of Afrikaans-Nederlands at that time.
Without a specific budget or collection policy, artworks were proposed to the rector for aproval. Purchases were made in three main categories. South African art, international graphics, and works for teaching purposes. In 1967, Walter Battiss was appointed head of the Department of History of Art and Fine Arts, and the collection expanded further under his guidance.
In 1985, the UNISA Art Collection found it's first, albeit temporary, curator. The following year a formal and regular budget was introduced, a collection policy developed, and permanent staff appointed. Then, in 1988, the Gallery was given its first and current home, the Old Library. The new space had large storage facilities and the Gallery was free to begin collecting more, and larger, sculptures. There were 13 sculptures in the collection by 1985, and we have over 100 today.
The collection is available to the public and other museums for study, teaching and exhibition purpose.
The UNISA Art Gallery aims to provide a range of experimental and challenging exhibitions that invite debate and educational stimulation. Amongst our annual highlights is the UNISA 4th level Visual Arts student exhibition, where graduating students get the chance to exhibit within a professional gallery space. This exhibition serves as a platform for students to introduce themselves to the contemporary art arena. The gallery also hosts the Advanced Diploma student’s exhibition and, occasionally, Masters student exhibitions.
The gallery’s year plan also includes several curated in-house exhibitions, which focuses on different aspects of the Unisa Permanent Collection. Such exhibitions take as starting point diverse aspects such as medium and technique, as can be seen by the Intervention exhibition (13 Sept – 17 Oct 2008), to more conceptually integrated conversations, such as the Contruct: Beyond the documentary photograph exhibition (26 July – 3 Sept 2008), both conceptualized by assistant curator Jacob Lebeko.
Travelling exhibitions afford the gallery the opportunity to continuously re-establish itself in terms of local tendencies and contemporary international art trends. A recent collaborative exhibition titled Dystopia (23 May - 30 June 2009) with Dr. Elfriede Dreyer from the University of Pretoria Visaul Arts department served to expose the gallery’s art community to works by internationally renowned artists such as Steven Cohen and Diane Victor and exciting new artists like Johan Thom, Dineo Bopape, Kai Lossgott, Senzeni Marasela and Zanele Muholi. T
hrough its exhibitions, the gallery attempts to provide pioneering visual and conceptual experiences to staff members, students and a broader South African public.
The Unisa Permanent Art Collection consists of over 1500 artworks. Initially without a gallery or acquisition policy, this collection was established 47 years ago. With an ever-increasing budget, a policy was set in place to allow for the structured accumulation of artworks. Such an acquisitions framework provided scope to collect a broad reflection of South African contemporary art. Multimedia works, paintings, ceramics, carved wooden sculptures, embroideries and woven articles add to a collection that is as diverse as its public.
Today, focus still remains on acquiring representative works by both established and peripheral South African artists. Selection for acquisition is conceptually informed by individual expressions of diverse South African identities. Works are also considered for their technical innovation of media and their contribution to a specific genre within the collection. As such, the collection has over 600 graphic prints, and a large amount of photographs some of which are prominent artists like David Goldblatt, Roger Ballen and Zanele Muholi.
The gallery offers a series of workshops and seminars aimed at raising awareness to the interactive dynamics of arts and culture, nurturing and promoting visual arts in particular. The gallery also aims to provide life long learning through training and educating. Student assistants form part of an internal training program whereby curatorial skills are developed.
Exhibiting artists and visitors alike are treated to 380 square meters of exhibition space and an abundance of available facilities and resources. The gallery caters for its highly experimental and contemporary student exhibitions through the facilitating of lighting and audiovisual equipment needs. The gallery has a collection of catalogues, specifically related to the artists represented in the permanent collection, which visitors may use as study aids. Visiting groups and schools can, upon prior arrangement, enjoy tours and walkabouts in the gallery. During such tours, visitors can learn more about the artists and the works on exhibition, and get the opportunity to discuss these works. Access for disabled people is in the form of ramps and lifts, while protection services allow for safe parking and 24 hour surveillance.