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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 September, 2004, 21:51 GMT 22:51 UK
South Africa's back-to-front art
By Richard Hamilton
BBC correspondent in Cape Town

A new exhibition in the South African city of Cape Town is causing controversy amongst art-goers after the curator decided to display the paintings the wrong way round.

Pictures hung back-to-front at the Flip exhibition in Cape Town
The back-to-front paintings have angered many art-goers
The paintings of 17th century Dutch old masters from the Michaelis Collection have been hung facing the wall and not the visitors.

Housed in the Old Town House in Cape Town's Greenmarket Square, they form part of the South African National Gallery collection and include works by Frans Hals and Anthony van Dyck.

Andrew Lamprecht, who is the curator of the exhibition, says the idea is to challenge people's preconceptions about art.

"I'm trying to refigure the notion of what a museum is all about," he says.

"I want to subvert people's expectations so that they're forced to look at familiar objects in a completely different way."

Knee-jerk reaction

He also says the backs of the paintings reveal interesting details about their history.

Andrew Lamprecht, curator of the Michaelis Collection in Cape Town
Conceptual art is anathema to many people
Andrew Lamprecht
"Researchers, collectors and curators always look at the backs of paintings because they have a lot of information on them, such as signatures, dates and notes from collectors, which the general public don't have access to."

But "Flip", as the exhibition is called, has provoked some angry responses.

"There was quite a lot of hostile reaction," says Mr Lamprecht.

"We had letters to the newspapers, radio phone-in programmes - people who had not even seen the exhibition were outraged. It was just an incredible knee-jerk reaction.

"I think it's because the art-going public in South Africa is quite conservative. Conceptual art is anathema to many people here."

Forgery claims

But not everyone has been outraged, says Mr Lamprecht.

Portrait of a Lady by Frans Hals (Copyright Michaelis Collection)
The backs of paintings reveal interesting facts about their history
"They realise it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to find out about the history of these paintings."

He says one visitor even pointed out an attempt at forgery.

"They showed me a signature on the back of one of the paintings that said Jan Vermeer.

"It is quite a bad attempt at forging his signature.

"We know the painting cannot possibly be a Vermeer and the owner was just trying to make a lot of money."

The exhibition runs until the end of October.

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