101 Collecting Conversations: Signature Works of a Century

Public and private art collections are born from a variety of catalytic impulses and are generally held in trust to educate, enchant and amaze. They are representative of the time and period in which they are assembled and are historically significant in their manner of collection. They contain a wealth of material and information to explore and interpret. Such exploration is particularly important in our postcolonial and contemporary moment.

The Javett-UP has brought together examples of artworks drawn from such collections across the country and beyond, selected in conversation with the curators and owners. Over 300 works were nominated as being of particular significance. A selection of 101 of these was made following guidelines established at the inception of the collective curatorial process. In particular, the curators considered:

  • Works which represent the artistic movement out of which they arose and therefore tell us something about the period in which they were created.
  • Works which represent a stylistic imperative, demonstrating a unique art style or exceptional technical skill.
  • Works whose subject matter has made a significant contribution to knowledge and has resonated in the public realm in meaningful or provocative ways.
  • Works with an enigmatic story: about the artist, or the making of the work, or the journey the work has travelled in the public imagination.

In addition to their representational function, it was felt that the works selected should also be evocative and should transcend their immediate moment and subject matter into a larger context. Powerful works of art tend to grow in stature as time passes, and the curators sought those that have endured beyond their immediate moment of creation.

The curators also considered a broad array of ‘themes’: politics, religion, cultural and traditional values, urbanisation, landscape, identity.

Public Engagement

The conversations set in motion by this process – with collectors, curators and researchers – will continue through the six months of the exhibition with visitors to the Javett –UP, whose responses to the art are a vital contribution to our experience of these works. The curatorial team has created a series of public and educational programmes, which include a selfie campaign and the collection of visitors’ responses to individual works of art. This engagement will form the basis of a catalogue-in-the-making, which will take shape over the course of the show and be published as an educational and archival resource. The exhibition thus spans a century, beginning in 1920 and ending with the publication of a catalogue – generated partly through public engagement with the art – in 2020.

This opening exhibition aims to demystify the gallery and museum experience and to present the Javett-UP as a place of education, collaboration and contemplation, a space where the art of Africa will be explored and celebrated.

Christopher Till: Founding Director