Marilyn Martin

By Talita Swarts

The South African art community is mourning the loss of Marilyn Martin, former Director of South Africa National Gallery. The news of her passing also coincided with an announcement by the National Art Museum temporarily closing their doors. The announcement of the four month closure and the controversy of the complete collapse of the Johannesburg Art Museum made me feel somewhat despondent. I ended up picking up Martin’s book, Between Dreams and Realities. A History of the South African National Gallery, 1871-2117.

This is what she concluded:

“Our great art museums are at the crossroads and somehow they have to find ways of reclaiming the leadership role they once occupied. It will require a combination of political will, public pressure and advocacy, and involve vision, partnerships, networks of influence and the commitment to raise money for projects and publications. South Africa is brimming with creative talent and our art museums are in a unique position of looking backward and forward at the same time, and of presenting contemporary cultural production in the context of the past. At Iziko history is being ignored and legacies constructed over many decades are being dismantled, but the South African National Gallery is bigger than any individual, structure, council and government department. One day, I am sure, it will once again achieve greatness and take its rightful place in the country, and in the world.”

Martin was named head of Art Collections at Iziko Museums in May 2001, after eleven years as head of the South African National Gallery. She formerly operated as a senior lecturer in the Department of Architecture at Wits University. She has worked as an independent writer, curator, and lecturer since leaving Iziko Museums in 2008 and was a senior scholar at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, specializing in Visual and Art History.