The Secret History

A group exhibition of Gregory Kerr’s Students’ work

Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory.
Quite the contrary.
Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.
~ Donna Tartt, The Secret History (2011:37)


As Donna Tartt’s Secret History dances between the Apollonian and the Dionysian in perfect harmony, so does the teaching style of Dr. Gregory Kerr. The thematic concept for this group exhibition therefore finds its origin in Tart’s debut novel. Dr. Kerr’s yearly programme, comprising a theme and a vigorous painting regime, draws aspiring as well as established artists from all over the country, with the hope of gaining acceptance to this élite group of students. The selection process might be mysterious, but the results are extraordinary. Under his guidance we accomplish the unthinkable. Students are led on a wayward journey, beset by hedgehogs in their barefoot way, which is the strategy employed to coax students into a reflexive relationship with their work.

A good deal of art teaching is directed towards combatting stereotypes, sterile habits and complacent looking and doing. It is the art teacher’s responsibility to ensure that students are obliged to engage in relationships with the source material, process and finally, the outcomes in images that are novel, surprising, challenging and difficult (Kerr, 2016:3)

This proposed group exhibition comprises the work of students from the Western Cape, undertaken in workshops from 2016 onward. The year programs entitled; Old Masters New Spaces (2016), Baroque Theatre Box (2017), Masters of Pop (2018), Cotan on Stage/Classics on Screen (2019) and The Archaeologist’s Sourcebook (2020), are all aimed at facilitating growth in technique and concept generation among the attending artists.

There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty - unless she is wed to something more meaningful - is always superficial.
Donna Tartt (2011:480)


The themes have one common thread, drawing from the Renaissance and Baroque periods juxtaposed with Postmodern art movements: the artist is compelled to generate iconography which challenges and subverts the history of décor and decorum, albeit deeply personal or purely superficial.

I often argue that our business as picture-makers is primarily to beguile the eye. Nothing else matters as much; not accuracy, truth, taste, expectations, science or orthodoxy of any kind. Nothing is wasted, and no philosophy trumps aesthetics when we are making our work. (Kerr, 2017:3)

The teaching process is a balance between creating chaotic Dionysian grounds, building layer upon layer of patina, and establishing physical history on the format, all while the artists are being challenged with various interventions ( the hedgehogs), carefully designed to prevent them from slipping into complacency. As soon as the artists think that they might be on terra firma, the process shifts again, and they are moved from the Dionysian to the Apollonian, a call to order, to subdue the revelry, through the taming of chaotic grounds. The subsequent layers, bringing order and restoring art principles and elements are both informed and supported by the underlying history. Art imitates life, the surface being dictated by that which came before. Throughout this process Kerr’s intent is to undermine simple mimesis, to coax the student into a praxis of image generation, that emerges from literary, philosophical, and cultural soil.

Khalepa ta kala. Beauty is harsh.
The result is an extensive body of work, over 5 years, from students, who have braved the wilderness and emerged, wide-eyed, enlightened and ready to “leave the phenomenal world, and enter into the sublime (Tartt 2011: 34)


~Laurette de Jager (curator)

Exhibition opens: 6 November 2021 at 10h30

Physical exhibition closes: 15 December 2021

Online exhibition closes: 1 January 2022