BOLD STAN­DARD

Good­man Gallery owner Liza Essers’ Joburg home is a show­case for mod­ern art and de­sign

House and Leisure (South Africa) - - Contents - TEXT GARRETH VAN NIEK­ERK PHO­TOGRAPHS ELSA YOUNG

Ten years have passed since Liza Essers took own­er­ship of Good­man Gallery, and ev­i­dence of her jour­ney to­wards mak­ing it what it is to­day can be found all over the house she shares with her hus­band, finewrist­watch dealer Peter Machlup, and six-yearold son David. In­side the home’s walls are her life’s sto­ries, from her up­bring­ing in Dur­ban as the daugh­ter of a Libyan-im­mi­grant mother to her first ca­reer start­ing out in the cor­po­rate world, and the many other hats she wears: film pro­ducer in Os­car-nom­i­nated movie Tsotsi, in­die cu­ra­tor, gal­lerist, phi­lan­thropist, wife and mother.

The prop­erty is lo­cated on a quiet street in the sub­urb of Atholl in Joburg, and could not be fur­ther from the art world’s cold, white cubes. Rather, it was built to em­u­late the charm of a French barn, be­com­ing an un­fussy fam­ily space where the cou­ple’s con­tem­po­rary art and fur­ni­ture col­lec­tion could sit com­fort­ably among chil­dren’s toys, rum­bunc­tious pets and in­her­ited an­tiques.

Ar­chi­tec­turally, the house is or­gan­ised around two cen­tral liv­ing ar­eas that open through lou­vre shut­ters onto for­mal gar­dens. The for­mer are de­fined by mon­u­men­tal rafter-beam ceil­ings, from which hang strik­ing wrought-iron chan­de­liers. The rooms share screeded con­crete floors that be­come a can­vas for the fam­ily’s col­lec­tion of an­tique rugs, and the lounge and kitchen-cum-din­ing spa­ces are presided over by dra­matic, dou­ble-vol­ume fire­places that counter the Highveld’s icy win­ter.

Vis­i­tors to the fam­ily’s home are met with some of their Cam­pana pieces, de­signed by Brazil­ian broth­ers Fer­nando and Hum­berto Cam­pana. The mov­ing parts of one of their Sk­itsch wood­lamps are hap­haz­ardly ar­ranged in the foyer along­side an enor­mous Shirin Ne­shat por­trait, and a step away is one of the more cheeky Cam­pana pieces, Soft Toy Ban­quette chair, made of stitched­to­gether plush an­i­mals. The Cam­pana works, Liza ex­plains, were bought when she first ex­hib­ited them at Good­man Gallery’s project space at Arts on Main in 2011.

Her love af­fair with clas­sic con­tem­po­rary de­sign will again find ex­hi­bi­tion space as she pre­pares to re­launch Euro­pean de­sign brand Ligne Roset in SA with busi­ness­woman Karen Lieb­mann

at a ded­i­cated show­room in Kramerville, Jo­han­nes­burg. Clas­sic Togo lounge pieces from Ligne Roset cur­rently take cen­tre stage in her liv­ing space.

Ma­jor works by Wil­liam Ken­tridge hang through­out the home along­side pieces by David Gold­blatt and Sam Nh­lengethwa — three of her big­gest men­tors over the course of her time at the helm of Good­man Gallery. Liza says the three artists were her strong­est al­lies against the op­po­si­tion she faced when first tak­ing over the gallery.

‘The art world a decade ago in this coun­try was a very dif­fer­ent place to what it is to­day. I was one of a few fe­male gal­lerists at the time and I faced a lot of hos­til­ity from the boys’ club when I stepped into the busi­ness. But 10 years later it’s be­come more col­le­gial,’ she says with a smile.

To­day, of the 30 artists she has brought into Good­man Gallery’s sta­ble, nearly half are fe­male – her great­est achieve­ment in her time as di­rec­tor, she says. Her home con­tains work by some of her favourites such as Mar­lene Du­mas, Sheila Hicks, Brid­get Ri­ley, Ghada Amer and Shirin Ne­shat. ‘It’s in­ter­est­ing that of the women I’ve brought onto the Good­man ros­ter, most of them – from Candice Bre­itz to Grada Kilomba, Kap­wani Ki­wanga, Gabrielle Go­liath and Tracey Rose – work in per­for­mance-based and video-in­stal­la­tion medi­ums. These are not easy com­mer­cial medi­ums. They can be de­mand­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence and chal­leng­ing in their sub­ject mat­ter. Tracey Rose is one of the first woman artists I brought into the sta­ble; her work is rad­i­cal, vul­ner­a­ble, play­ful and dis­turb­ing all at once. I am deeply re­spect­ful of her po­si­tion in South African art his­tory and com­pelled to prac­tices like hers, which so un­apolo­get­i­cally chal­lenge power struc­tures.’

Out­side the house’s front door is a bronze go­rilla, en­ti­tled ‘One Party State’ – a piece gifted by Brett Mur­ray from his con­tro­ver­sial 2012 Hail To The Thief ex­hi­bi­tion that fa­mously brought South Africa to a stand­still for its con­tro­ver­sial por­trayal of for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in the now leg­endary ‘The Spear’ paint­ing.

Re­flect­ing on it, she says that time was ‘one of the low­est points of my ca­reer. It was very trau­matic. When there are 5 000 peo­ple march­ing out­side your gallery want­ing to burn it down and [African Na­tional Congress chair­per­son] Gwede Man­tashe is call­ing you per­son­ally on your cell­phone… Peo­ple didn’t re­alise that I had a six-week-old baby! I was on ma­ter­nity leave, breast­feed­ing at home, when I got a knock on my door with an ap­pli­ca­tion from the High Court that had been brought by the ANC, Ja­cob Zuma and his chil­dren.’

Above all, she ob­serves, try­ing to bal­ance moth­er­hood, mar­riage and her pro­fes­sion is the hard­est thing she has ever had to do. ‘My son is the most im­por­tant per­son in my life, hands down. The choices I make come down to juggling be­ing a mother, part­ner and gal­lerist. Nav­i­gat­ing these roles is a chal­lenge and a thrill. For the past 10 years, I’ve been com­mit­ted to plat­form­ing artists who chal­lenge power struc­tures. This has been the guid­ing force be­hind my ex­pan­sion of the ros­ter. Tracey Rose puts it well when she says, “Good art comes from within; what you cre­ate comes from an­other place. If you are go­ing to make decor art, go paint at Zoo Lake.”’ good­man-gallery.com

T HIS PAGE, F ROM TOP Lim­ited-edi­tion din­ner plates cre­ated for NGO Or­ange Ba­bies by Good­man Gallery artists are a favourite fix­ture at Fri­day-night din­ners; in­her­ited sil­ver­ware and a por­trait of Peter’s grand­mother gov­ern a cor­ner of the for­mal lounge, where con­tem­po­rary art­works such as Ger­ald Ma­chona’s ‘The Flam­ing Lily’ and an un­fold­ing wooden box by Willem Boshoff are dis­played on a cof­fee ta­ble by Lunetta Bartz of Maker Stu­dio (mak­er­stu­dio.co.za).

The open-plan din­ing, kitchen and study space fea­tures a grand 16-seater ta­ble with felt chairs from Ligne Roset, which play host to fre­quent soirees; a stoic bronze go­rilla sculp­ture en­ti­tled ‘One Party State’ from South African artist Brett Mur­ray’s 2012 Hail To The Thief ex­hi­bi­tion pre­sides over the gar­den at the house’s en­trance; Provençal-in­spired lou­vre shut­ters open onto the prop­erty’s lush green­ery. Ar­chi­tec­turally, the house is or­gan­ised around two cen­tral liv­ing spa­ces that open through lou­vre shut­ters onto the prop­erty’s for­mal gar­dens. T HIS PAGE, CLOCK­WISE F ROM BE­LOW

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