7 March – 1 April 2006
This captivating exhibition takes an expansive look at a diversity of artistic expressions with only one aspect in common: metal as material.
Art-making in metal is a practice as old as humankind, and has long established traditions in parts of West and North Africa, but in South Africa it has a relatively short and checkered history. Demand for large propagandistic sculpture flourished during the twentieth century, setting in motion the 1930s establishment of the Vignali Foundry in Pretoria. Till then, most metal work was cast overseas, primarily in Britain and Italy. The establishment of this foundry may arguably be regarded as the beginning of large-scale metal sculpture in South Africa as a commercially viable industry. But casting is of course by no means the only way of making metal art.
Production of smaller, privately generated, and therefore perhaps more inventive, work in techniques such as assemblage or welding was encouraged through art schools and training centers. And of course, wire work has emerged as one of the most imaginative and resourceful idioms for producing immediately saleable street art because of its availability and pliability coupled with high demand.
Like most aspects of South African twentieth century history, sculpture-making was shaped by issues of race, and may justifiably be regarded as a tale of two traditions, split according to formal and informal training, methods and opportunity. Until late in the century, black sculptors worked mostly in the traditional mediums of clay or wood, metal being more inaccessible, despite evidence of advanced technical knowledge of iron work and gold smelting found at the mythical city of Mapungubwe, where objects in gold and other metals, reminiscent of the great African traditions of Ghana, Mali and Zimbabwe were found.
This exhibition is aimed at presenting contemporary South African metal sculpture in all its diversity, drawn from the diversity of its history. Heroic dogs by David Brown will share space with mythical figures by recently deceased Speelman Mahlangu; whimsically elongated hunters by Maureen
Quin will converse with stocky figures by Herman van Nazareth who has quietly been producing his art for many decades.
A bitter-sweet note will be added to the fascinating collection of South African sculpture on the show by a group of assemblages by Mozambican sculptor Gonçalo Mabunda. His comical and heart-warming welded figures are constructed from fragmented guns, artillery, grenades - the debris of decades of bloody struggle from his ravaged country.
Visitors to 34 Long can look forward to a feast of metal surprises, among them work by some of South Africa’s best-known artists.
Norman Catherine, William Kentridge, the list is long. Don’t miss this show.