As you enter the Warren Siebrits gallery from the relentless noise of Jan Smuts Avenue, Pieter Hugo's images pummel you with another noise which threatens to destabilise you.
A 1984 October magazine article discussing the link between gentrification and the transformation of New York City's Lower East Side into an art district cites that between 1981 and 1984 no less than 25 galleries opened in this district. The article further points out that the adventurous avant-garde inadvertently forms the frontline for the gradual reclamation of the inner city. The transformation of Woodstock into Cape Town's art district is quantitatively smaller, contained within the envelope of the Fairweather and Buchanan buildings, up until Albert Road, but with the opening of two major galleries, Bell-Roberts and Michael Stevenson, within a month of each other, the transformation pioneered by the Goodman Gallery last year is qualitatively significant.
I recently had the privilege of attending the most expansive showing ever of works by that giant of South African public sculpture, Edoardo Villa. That prospect alone might have been enough to get one's juices flowing. But not only was it Villa, it was Villa in a baptismal moment - inaugurating the sculpture garden at the Nirox Foundation, a sublimely manicured estate in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind aimed at "advancing South African art globally, imparting skill and stimulating artistic expression".
The cityscape has never figured prominently within the history of South African art. That has always been the territory of American art which glorified structural views of New York, and French art with its romanticized depictions of Paris. Not surprisingly Cobus van Bosch's current exhibition of cityscapes at 34 Long, includes a number of views of Paris. But what is surprising is that many of the works evocative of New York urban landscapes are actually paintings of Cape Town and Johannesburg.
National Museum of African Art | Washington DC
Spier Wine Estate | Stellenbosch
KZNSA GALLERY | DURBAN
ART ON PAPER | JOHANNESBURG
KZNSA GALLERY | DURBAN
AFRICAN ART CENTRE | DURBAN
3C transformed the AVA's traditional, and excruciatingly painful, Committees Choice exhibitions into something fairly nice - a critic's, curators and committee's choice, although the latter could have been given a skip. I count neither as a critic nor curator and therefore in this non-position am left to write the review.
As the panellists reviewed by Gideon Unkeless ['Mandela's Ego', ASA, vol. 8(2)], we felt obliged to reply to what we've concluded was a dismissive and vacuous review. Although we acknowledge that a reviewer is under no obligation to present what he or she heard in glowing terms, we are also concerned that Unkeless gave the impression that our contributions that evening were so banal as not to be worth a fair exposition. We have therefore taken the opportunity to present a summation of our contributions that evening, while also correcting some of the errors that Unkeless made in quoting or summarising our views.
The recent opening of Anton Kannemeyer's untitled exhibition at Spier Wine Estate near Stellenbosch coincided with the official launch of the Beam Gallery at this venue. It is ironic that the a gallery that was established to "enable new ideas and to incubate and nurture a place for different voices where art, craft and design can transcend traditional barriers" should choose to launch with an exhibition by such a well-known and established artist.
Arlene Amaler-Raviv's moody paintings would be incomplete without their titles. It is the wry phrases and words that bring clarity to the smudged, blurred and obscured subjects that roam through indistinct environments. The cacophonies of colours and patterns, and anonymous figures that dominate Amaler-Raviv's artworks might mirror the visual texture of the exhibition's urban setting (Commissioner Street, Johannesburg), but her art moves between describing the visual character of the city to capturing impressions of the tumultuous world of emotion that defines inner life.
The complex social and physical elements of the Durban Bluff are the locus for the photographic exhibition Breathing Spaces recently shown at the Durban Art Gallery. This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration between University of KwaZulu-Natal History lecturer, Marijke du Toit and Rhodes University photography lecturer, Jenny Gordon.
There are few South African landscape photographers who break new ground. Brent Meistre, a Rhodes University lecturer and photographer who has won Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum's first Biennale Award, presents a tangential vision of his turf - the Eastern Province. Meistre continues to develop the body of work documenting his reaction to the effects which history has on landscape, what he calls "the traces of collective memory". These manifest through artefacts he finds in landscape.
Reconsidering the transience of female beauty, Cara van der Westhuizen has created a collection of what may best be described as curiosity cabinets for her first solo exhibition, Venus Revisited. Van der Westhuizen's hand-made cabinets house overlays of glass panels upon which she has lithographed medieval and renaissance representations of Venus and Eve along with an array of clinical charts, diagrams, and symbols that speak of impermanence.
I must confess to feeling a tad strung out by art steeped in its own scatology or soaked in urological semantics. And my aversion does not stem from a blushing discomfort with that "final taboo", what Victor Hugo evocatively called the 'last veil' clouding our vision of the truth..
Christine Dixie's latest exhibition, Corporeal Prospects, is an extensive and thoroughly conceptualised exhibition. Consisting of works from Dixie's early career up until her most recent offerings, the show gives the viewer an interesting trajectory of the artists work whilst navigating the voluminous Standard Bank Gallery space.
It is no easy task reviewing the work of Esther Mahlangu. Not that it unworthy of critique. It is just that any critical dialogue entails recycling debates that were galvanised in the 1980s, during a rather breathless, heady moment in South African art history.
Unwel'olude, Gabi's Ngcobo's second solo exhibition is a courageous offering given the depth of issues the work attempts to raise around a collective black South African identity.
Remnants, Relics and Reasons by Jennifer Lovemore-Reed forms the second part of her artistic dialogy. Last year, Lovemore-Reed presented the performance piece Bag-lady, Clown, Sycophant at the Erdmann Contemporary.
RRESPEKTIV, Kendell Geers' travelling survey exhibition, creates a space to confront and unpack emotional responses to fear and trauma. The exhibition is made up of a number of installation pieces addressing terror and mortality in a global context but with specific reference to the high levels of violence in South Africa. Geers constructs a space that lays out the basic hues of human existence: life, death and sex. The artist casts the viewer "into a complex semantic labyrinth through which they must find their own way back to safety alone". Adds the artist, "I always see art as a bridge, I build the one half and its up to the viewer to build the other half and we meet halfway."
It is clear that Kudzanai Chiurai's artistic persona overshadows his art. Celebrated as the first black fine arts graduate from the University of Pretoria, as well as being barred from his home country of Zimbabwe for his outspoken criticism of the political situation there, Chiurai has invited controversy and publicity with great commercial success.
In 2005 I came across a painting by Madi Phala while rummaging through the South African National Gallery's collection. Dated 1982, the painting was collected from the earliest Thupelo workshops, then still held around Gauteng. Phala was one of the first artists to take part in these workshops, which since 1982 have been organised by the Triangle Arts Trust Network.
Meschac Gaba and Nandipha Mntambo's concurrent solo exhibitions, Tresses and Ingabisa, provide useful foils to each other. Both exhibitions engage with what ostensibly seems to be clothing or adornment, but in a complicated manner, where what is placed on the body speaks of the interface of self with history, culture and space. Because of this confluence, I find the choice to show these artists together a particularly good one, as these bodies of work broadens and deepens the experience of both offerings.
History and language are a strange pair of beasts. Like a river history twists and turns through barren landscapes and deep canyons, experiencing times of drought and heavy flood. And just like a river history is susceptible to the guises of those who drink from it, either changing its flow or damming it up, ensuring longevity.
Much to the ire of his critics and other art insiders, Paul du Toit, the self-taught outsider, has achieved remarkable success in ten short years. In spite of his detractors, he has mounted a successful international career, while consistently presenting sold-out exhibitions at respected Cape Town galleries. His latest show at 34LONG is no exception. Capitalising precisely upon that which most troubles his critics - "the aesthetically pleasing canvases" with appealing colours - Du Toit presents 24 new paintings which clearly are the work of a more mature artist who has become a proficient colourist, and savvy at manipulating complexities of line.
Open Studio (Cortex Athletico) is presented as an artist's studio lodged within the white cube of a commercial gallery. Traditionally, the studio takes on the role of mediator between the artist and the system of the art world.
The stark contexture of the paintings in Trasi Henen's Delicate Life Pursuer belies the exhibition title. Life is squashed out of the paintings by her layered structural conglomerations. The exhibition continues the theme of "fractured and alienated suburban spaces", raised in Henen's previous exhibitions, Suburbia Fantastical (2003) and Passer By 2005). However, contrary to these exhibitions, which still allowed for mythical space and a human subject, there is complete anonymity and absolute alienation in these paintings. Only impossible spaces are even alluded to, but hidden by dense superstructures.
When I was a young child beetles fascinated me. On walks in the veld I would find the live ones scurrying about their business, and the dead ones merely shells strewn across my path. They were to me, when alive, mechanical creatures, seemingly soulless automatons driven by some divine unseen motor.
Formed in 1981 by four ex-Michaelis graduates, Handspring Puppet Company have produced eleven plays and two operas, collaborated with many different artists - William Kentridge included - and opened in over 200 venues in South Africa and abroad
We were dreaming, the centuries flew past at a steady pace, and the turtle-necking need for dancing on the graves of dead artists eventually reared its filthy head - a bit of a thank you, and fuck you, I suppose. It was when these guys moshed on the mausoleum of Pierneef that my interested was aroused. Everybody loves a good Pierneef and this is all very Rock & Roll.
This show confirms Dumile Feni as one of the most astonishing draughtsman South Africa has produced. Titled, Jabula, it presents us not with Feni's earlier work, but work produced after he left South Africa in 1968 for London. The work, as such, has shifted from the expressionism of his earlier drawings to what seems to be a more cubist, at least more abstract, sense of the figure. The selection is astute, combining erotic drawings and politically themed graphic works, separated by the partitioning of the white cube space.
According to Goodman Gallery Cape's press release, Jeremy Wafer's Recent Works emerged from a "declared interest in the performative aspects of minimalism". I do not wish to analyse this text, neither launch into a discussion on Gestalt psychology and the theories of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (both of which are regularly associated with Minimalism from the 1960s), however it is worth mentioning that, in general, gallery texts serve to contextualise exhibitions.
Spier's artist of the year 2006/07, Anton Kannemeyer's solo exhibition at the Beam Gallery, Spier Wine Estate.
In spite of his detractors, he has mounted a successful international career. Sanford Shaman looks at his latest exhibition.