“All in a Day’s Eye: The Politics of Innocence in the Javett Collection”
              Sean O’Toole
              In these necessary times of dismantling and revisionism, there is a case to be made for the explanatory wall text as one of the least rehabilitated pieces of museum orthodoxy. Can diagnostic writing reproduce the subtlety, particularity, and even obliquity of literature and still retain a radical function? It is a question I kept returning to reading the numerous, often undeveloped, expository texts that accompany curator Gabi Ngcobo’s exhibition, one of four shows inaugurating a new art museum at the University of Pretoria. “All in a Day’s Eye: The Politics of Innocence in the Javett Collection” stages a kind of truth commission through image and wall text, using works by some two dozen, mostly white South African artists amassed by the philanthropist Michael Javett to reframe sedentary positions of meaning, value, and importance, in particular by highlighting the “economies of access” and “political climate” that informed their production. The show opens with a hoary genre painting by English-born Ivanonia Roworth, The Return from School, Genadendal (1954). This Barbizon-style work depicts two groups of children outside three thatched buildings, one topped with wispy smoke, in a community that was once a refuge for freed slaves; Genadendal, located at the foot of …

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