David Goldblatt photography of South Africa

The Art Institute of Chicago presents David Goldblatt: No Ulterior Motive, on view from December 2, 2023 through March 25, 2024. Spanning six decades of Goldblatt’s career, this exhibition demonstrates his commitment to showing the realities of daily life in South Africa without pretense.

Known for his nuanced portrayals of life during and after apartheid, Goldblatt devoted himself to documenting his country and its people. His impetus for photographing South African social relations in everyday encounters was deeply informed by reflection on his relative position of privilege in a racially segregated society.

This presentation of David Goldblatt photography shows early black-and-white work alongside color photographs made after the end of apartheid, highlighting how the artist’s perspective shifted over time in response to South Africa’s political upheavals. The title No Ulterior Motive is inspired by language Goldblatt used in a newspaper ad seeking subjects for his photographs. He used this line to express his promise of a fully transparent and straightforward photographic encounter and his dedication to impartial observation. 

“This is the first exhibition of this scale dedicated to David Goldblatt in the city of Chicago, and it offers an important look through his distinctive approach to documenting major transformations in South African life, and it speaks to his crucial role in the history of photography and photo education for South Africa and beyond,” exhibition co-curator Leslie Wilson, associate director, Academic Engagement and Research at the Art Institute of Chicago. said.

“This significant milestone builds upon a decade of attention to art from South Africa, including focus exhibitions with Kemang Wa Lehulere, Igshaan Adams and James Webb; and retrospective exhibitions on the work of Jo Ractliffe and the Medu Art Ensemble,” Matthew Witkovsky, Sandor Chair and Curator, Photography and Media at the Art Institute of Chicago, said. “All of these projects have brought important works to the collection and the library as well, so that students of photography and contemporary art from South Africa will have a lasting center for research at the Art Institute of Chicago.”

The show will include 140 works in total, including works by Goldblatt but also works that place Goldblatt within a global and intergenerational network of photographers including Josef Koudelka, Shomei Tomatsu, Ruth Seopedi Motau, and Zanele Muholi, among others.

The David Goldblatt photograhy exhibition is co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid. It is curated by Witkovsky, Wilson, and Yechen Zhao, assistant curator, Photography and Media, and Yale University Art Gallery’s Judy Ditner, Richard Benson Associate Curator of Photography and Digital Media. A richly illustrated catalog accompanies the exhibition.

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