Suspicious invoices haunt 2011 Venice art fair
At least R4m of taxpayers’ R10m Culart received for 2011 Biennale is backed up by highly irregular bills
WITH the 2013 Venice Biennale two months into its season, the ghosts have not yet gone to bed on South Africa’s misadventures at the Italian city’s 2011 art fair.
Weekend Argus can reveal that a chain of apparently faked invoices and dubious subcontracts was generated in accounting for the taxpayers’ R10 million, entrusted to Joburg gallerist Monno Mokoena to mount South Africa’s official entry in the prestigious festival.
The paperwork is contained in an audited accounting, from NM Patel Auditors, of how CulArt Productions (a company owned by Mokoena and Tim Mangwedi) disbursed the R10m paid out by the Department of Arts and Culture.
But despite the favourable audit opinion, and the department’s recent statement that “we have no reason to doubt the professionalism of the audit company”, the invoices do not stand scrutiny. CulArt claims to have paid MMA architects R360 000 for “architectural design for the pavilion” in Venice. An invoice is attached, annotated as being from a Mphethi Morojele of MMA.
However, Morojele denied receiving the money, and stated unequivocally: “I would like to put on record that I have absolutely no knowledge of the attached invoice (which is not even a proper MMA invoice) nor has MMA ever been paid the stated amount.”
A second person involved in the event similarly denied having received the money specified, totalling more than R100 000, indicating the relevant invoice was a forgery.
Also signed off in the audit are 10 different invoices from Italian nationals and companies – all formatted identically. Some of these manifest inaccurate Italian spellings and grammar. Though ostensibly independently generated, several invoices repeat an error in spelling in CulArt’s address, giving the suburb as “Parktown Wort” rather than Parktown North.
Another apparently irregular invoice is submitted by “Victor Dlamini Communications”, in the amount of R1 394 640. It specifies several services which were in fact not provided at all – including an iPad app and print advertising campaign. However, Dlamini – who is a business partner of Mokoena in other ventures – has repeatedly insisted he had “no involvement” in the Venice debacle. But Dlamini’s name appears on departmental minutes of a meeting on March 15, 2011, where he is identified as a member of “CulArt”, and also on the original budget.
Equally mysterious is another invoice, this one from a South African company called Novactive, which was paid more than R1.5m. It claims that Novactive was paid R1.3m for “boat hire” and “installing (the artworks)”. But, according to sources close to the Biennale (who wish to remain anonymous but would testify to this in a court of law), no South African company assisted with the actual installation of the exhibition.
By a rough addition, at least R4m of the R10m CulArt received for the 2011 event is backed up by irregular or apparently fake invoices. This does not include the management fee of R1.5m and the curator’s fee of R402 980, paid to Thembinkosi Goniwe.
The 2011 participation in the Biennale flared into controversy when it became known that then newly-appointed Arts and Culture minister Paul Mashatile had appointed art dealer Mokoena as commissioner, without any consultative processes. Then the row deepened when Mokoena chose – unilaterally – two artists commercially represented by Mokoena’s own gallery, among the four countrywide selected for what was meant to be a nationally representative showing.
By contrast with South Africa’s 2011 participation, the 2013 exhibition – entrusted to the National Arts Festival with arms-length department funding, and curated by Brenton Maart – has been relatively free of controversy. However, some questions have been raised surrounding the number of government officials sent to the event.
According to the department, four people were sent to Venice but due to its “network server” being down, it did “not have the expenditure breakdown immediately due to a lack of access to information”.
The department has also recently confirmed spending R21.6m on a 20-year lease on a building in Venice to house South Africa’s participation.
This comes at a time when the department has reduced spending on its National Development Project and on the National Arts Council by R23.1m “as part of cabinet’s approved budget reductions”.
What is also noted in the department’s portfolio budget report of 2013 is that: “(P)rojects such as the annual Edinburgh International Festival, the Tunisian Film Festival and the French-South African seasons in 2013/14 contribute to increased spending on travel”.
Blackman is editor of the online website Artthrob.
MYSTERY: The Venice Biennale showcases art from around the world. Once again the South African entry has been haunted by controversy.