Wayne Barker's Coca-Cola karma

Kathryn Smith

WAYNE BARKER: ARTIST’S MONOGRAPH by Charl Blignaut (Chalkham Hill Press) Those familiar with “cutting edge” contemporary art, or the suburb of Troyeville, need no introduction to Wayne Barker. But for those who do, or who know him simply as a louche, conscientious objector-artist and one-time gallery owner who bears more than a passing resemblance to that other art icon, Joseph Beuys, his recently-launched artist’s monograph is worth a browse. Published by Chalkham Hill Press in association with the French Institute of South Africa (Ifas), the monograph is suitably post-modern in look, with a very Tom Waits-meets-Reservoir Dogs pic on the cover.
It is the first of a proposed series of publications on local artists underwritten by Ifas. The text, written by Charl Blignaut (and including a small contribution by Alan Crump), is anecdotal, provocative and bordering on the sycophantic, but at least it provides a strong sense of Zeitgeist and a detailed context in which to consider Barker’s production. Being slightly more cake than bread, the book’s format was a calculated risk on the part of all concerned. Patched together from what looks like studio scrapings, characteristic of Barker’s working process, the book is more a work in itself than an empirical resource. Works are listed in the back with their corresponding page numbers, but the layout and design makes the works difficult to locate. This aesthetically self-conscious clutter carries through to the chapter titles, with the likes of “Have you Hugged a Fascist Today?” begging the reader to engage with Barker’s carefully constructed yet rather unthreatening enfant terrible persona. But while our artists can do with as much glamorama as possible, the fact that South African contemporary art suffers a gross paucity of reference-quality publishing also needs to be considered. The quality and quantity of publications immediately creates an international context and market for the art with which it engages. But if Barker is to be believed when he says that “Nothing gets lost in the universe,” then this should at least act as a map and marker of a career that continues to provide some of the more interesting moments in our cultural production.

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