The Curator: Storm Janse van Rensburg
By PETRA MASON, July, 2018
How did Vryheid born Storm Janse van Rensburg become the curator at one of North America's top art museums? Whitehot's Petra Mason went to Savannah, Georgia to find out.
Seated long legged in his signature dark suit, Storm Janse van Rensburg sipped on a gin and tonic and surveyed the crowd at a venue famous for drag shows featuring The Lady Chablis of 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' fame. As a Southern belle lip-synched to Dolly Parton's '9 to 5' Storm and I discussed his 9 to 5's since we first met at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2012 when he was manning the Goodman Gallery booth. Since then he has lived in Berlin, Germany, where he was a fellow at the Academy for Advanced African Studies. While Berlin based he independently curated Abrie Fourie's exhibition which travelled from Berlin to Johannesburg and then on to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Storm joined SCAD Museum of Art as staff in 2014 and fell in love with the historic town. Since then Janse van Rensberg has been working with leading international artists, sometimes on new commissions. Continuing our conversation we went on a walk-about through the current SCAD Museum of Art annual deFINE ART exhibition that includes some of America, and the world's contemporary art stars, intelligently, and accurately reflecting the spirit of our times.
You grew up in Kwa-Zulu. Now you're head curator of exhibitions at SCAD. How did you get here?
Growing up on a farm with a playful curiosity for the world, encouraged through road trips, ferocious reading and participation in the arts. But also hard work, and some incredible individuals who've supported and believed in me. A major shift was moving to Berlin in 2012. It forced me to start over, to learn a new language, and at age 40 to re-orientate myself.
I remain deeply committed to South Africa with a deep longing for its people. I did not emigrate when I left for South Africa, and remain on temporary visas. The ‘return’ however is not immediate, but further in the future.
Tell us about your involvement with the Visual Arts Network of South Africa?
VANSA was established to support visual artists and their interests nationally by creating opportunities, and as a body to lobby the public and private sector. I am proud of my involvement with VANSA, and it is going strong, and being run by an enthusiastic and committed group of young people.
What would your sage advice be to those looking to get into the curator game?
The art world is a small place, and networking is one of the most essential components of my work. It is about relationships and friendships and finding those that share your interests intellectually. Intuition, diplomacy and the willingness to collaborate - putting on any exhibition is a complex network of individuals and viewpoints that need to be navigated.
Part of what makes the art world appealing to some is that it is unregulated. Curating on the other hand is very structured. Your thoughts?
The art market is unregulated, but our museum and institutional contexts are regulated and structured. You need to understand both sides to navigate the contemporary art world as all aspects of it are intrinsically linked to the market.
How does your SCAD partnership work with your fellow SCAD curators?
Humberto Moro and Ben Tollefson curate from a perspective that we have not had before. Our program at SCAD Museum of Art is international, with strong links to Latin America, Asia, Europe and the African continent. We are a small curatorial team, each with our idiosyncratic perspectives, but with deep respect and appreciation for each other’s interests.
What secret spots have you found in Savannah?
The nature is incredible here in the low country, the barrier islands of Georgia and the Carolinas. Many of the marshes and islands are protected, and easily accessible by kayak or boats.
What happened to your leg? I had no idea until you showed up in shorts.
I was in a motorbike accident at the age of 12, on our farm. For the most part I do not consider this an issue or being disabled, as partly due to technology, I walk and get around without any problem. I live a very active lifestyle, and I am lucky.
You have such a strong look. Do you think looking the part is important for curators?
A well fitting suit is essential, and stick to pretty classic things: a dark suit, light shirts. I have been wearing the same frames for the last eights years, and it seems to have stuck.
It is a mystery world how curators decide on titles and content for exhibitions. How?
I prefer to keep them descriptive and simple. Often artists' come up with their titles, and that is often linked to the content of the work.
How do you actively engage the need to be more inclusive?
The vision of the SCAD Museum of Art has always pivoted around diversity. I think that as South Africans we had a head start on many debates currently been worked through in America. I am incredibly aware of what an extraordinary, and historically significant time I started out as a curator, and the contexts and issues we as South Africans navigated, and worked through, with art, and thinking through exhibition practices. WM
Cultural historian and publisher. Beefcake 100% Rare, All Natural is her first Universe title, Bettie Page Queen of Curves and Bunny Yeager's Darkroom are her Rizzoli titles. Mason edited Fall 2015 Skira/Rizzoli's Imperfect Utopia.