SA’s vibrant history reflected in Standard Bank art collection

SA’s vibrant history reflected in Standard Bank art collection

‘The Art of Banking: celebrating through collections’ will be running at the Standard Bank Gallery, corner of Simmonds and Frederick Streets, Johannesburg, until December 1. The exhibition marks Standard Bank’s 150th year in banking.

All of the works in the show are drawn from the Standard Bank Corporate Art Collection, one of the oldest and most comprehensive of South African corporate art collections. Initiated in 1938, this collection comprises over 1000 works by some 250 artists, most of whom are South African, while others are pioneer explorers of the colonial era.

The collection was initiated in 1938, when a portrait of the first general manager of Standard Bank, Robert Stewart, was acquired. No further works were acquired until 1968. At this time, the identification and selection of works for purchase relied on the preferences of the bank’s Chairman, AAQ Davies, who displayed a strong interest in the collection. Davies, chairman from 1967-1973, initiated a series of major commissions by South African artists in 1969 for the new Standard Bank Centre in Fox Street, Johannesburg, which opened in 1970. The artists commissioned were Walter Battiss, Louis Maqhubela and Cecil Skotnes. These were the first modern artists to be represented in the collection.

After Davies’ term of office, the collection continued to be informed by the tastes of successive chairmen of the bank until 1993, when art specialists were appointed to recommend and advise on purchases for the collection. A further change in the bank’s approach to collecting took place in 2001, when a formal Visual Arts Committee was established, resulting in an increasing focus on the acquisition of major contemporary works that reflect current developments in South African art-making.

Today the Standard Bank Corporate Art Collection includes work ranging from studies of fauna and flora to pieces that explore the forces that have shaped South Africa’s colonial and apartheid past. It is a particularly rich archive that powerfully demonstrates the depth, complexity and diversity of South African art

Based on selections from the Standard Bank Corporate Art Collection, ‘The Art of Banking: celebrating through collections’ provides a journey through South Africa’s history, using art works as points of departure, or triggers, for telling a story about various eras, episodes, circumstances and events. Because the show celebrates Standard Bank’s 150th birthday, this tracing of history through art begins in 1862, when Standard Bank first opened its doors in Port Elizabeth. The story is told chronologically, narrated decade by decade. It covers numerous themes, such as the discovery of gold on the Highveld in 1886, the Second Anglo-Boer War of the 1890s, the establishment of Sophiatown in 1897, and the 1922 Miner’s Strike. Other themes include the establishment of Afrikaans as an official language in the 1930s, World War II, the student uprising of 1976, forced removals under apartheid, and the advent of democracy in 1994. The show ends with an exploration of issues of the new millennium, such as consumerism, the global economic crisis and xenophobia.

The exhibition features a host of renowned South African artists, all of whom are major contributors to the story of art in this country. These include John Mohl, Gerard Sekoto, Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, Brett Murray, Johannes Phokela, William Kentridge, Durant Sihlali, Sam Nhlengethwa, Trevor Makhoba, David Goldblatt, Alexis Preller, Penny Siopis and Wim Botha.


* The gallery is open Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 4.30pm, and on Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. Admission is free.

For more information, call 011 631 4467, or visit