Robyn Cendras-Tobin, Director of the Rupert Museum
Within the world of private art foundations, not many people get the change to experience the transition from one generation to the next. How was it for you moving from the original founders, Dr Anton and Mrs Huberte Rupert, to their granddaughter Hanneli Rupert? Maintaining the original mission, yet making changes to reflect the new generation?
Robyn Cendras Tobin:” Thank you for that question. I think what has been interesting for me is that I have noticed such parallels between what the museum stood for originally and Hanneli’s own vision for us going forward. And it really starts when you look at how Dr and Mrs Rupert supported the arts through their lifetime. In fact, from the late sixties already they had competitions for children and they later on also had exchanges of exhibitions of South African artists work that they managed to put together and travel to Europe and other parts of the world, and vice versa. They brought international art into South Africa for the South African public to enjoy. This really speaks to an ethos that is very much about sharing.
Another part that was important to them was that the collection be seen in its entirety at all times. So we do have a store room, but compared to other spaces it is really very small. We try and keep the art works seen whether in the corporate spaces that belong to the various businesses that are affiliated with family, or even in the guest houses or at the Rupert museum.
We also got a few sister sites at the Graaff-Reinet, called the Jan Rupert Centre. We work with Hester Rupert Museum, which is a municipal museum in Graaff-Reinet and we have quite a few opportunities to show the work that comes from what Dr and Mrs Rupert really installed.
Also, apart from that they were quite instrumental in working with the artists and helping them to develop their careers. So they would be individuals that they loved their work, they would purchase directly from them. They would visit them in their studios. They would listen to their stories to find out where the lives were going and what kind of support they need. Direct dealing with the artists also affected the way they acquired art. They didn’t have a middle man. They would speak directly to the artist and go and visit exhibitions themselves; chose what they wanted. And I see this today still very much in the way Hanneli has now assisted us in the process of I would say, refreshing the museum.
The big part of the change for us has been really the renovation of the physical space, which we have changed, maybe just cosmetically a little bit on the inside to freshen it up; on the outside we have got a fabulous new indigenous garden. We have taken down the big electrified fence and opened it up, so that people can see that this is a space they should come and visit. We have got a beautiful glass entrance, which is a new structure ( as you can see in the image). It is so much more inviting. It gives you the sense of a contemporary space although we are very much showing our modern art works in a contemporary space. Another new inclusion is our makers studio, a work shop space.
And so, as I mentioned before, the Rupert Museum, a museum without walls: that little frase was coined by Mrs Hanneli Rupert, and for her, although we have walls, it is really more about our reach as an institution and also of a centre well as activity, learning and exploration which is very important to her. So obviously at the centre of that, is in fact our public programming, which is a brand new part of what we are doing.
To give you an idea of what we looked like before; that was is in 2005 and you see we got that terra-cotta tiles, to give that homely feel. On the outside, you can see what the Cape wine lands looked like and what our little entrance looked like before.
Rupert Museum in 2005: exterior and interior
So it is quite a dramatic change, although it is smaller things that we have done.
This is what the space on the inside looks like now. Very much refreshed. Still showing our own collection, but including quite a few of loaned pieces to have it in conversation with the collection. That is the transition.
Rupert Museum, Stellentia Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa
see here our interview about the Rupert Museum (2015)