Archive: Issue No. 97, September 2005

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Zwelethu Mthethwa and Absolute Zwelethu


Jetty Square, a new public space on the foreshore


Pat Ward Williams


Sophie Perryer in Issey Miyake
in front of Dineo Bopape


El Anatsui's cloth of metal


Laurie Farrell at lunch in Camps Bay


Wednesday, August 3

What's up? Usually invitations from the AVA gallery are on a come-one-come-all basis, but this time a flurry of emails and phone calls from the gallery have insisted on strict RSVP-ing. The occasion is the unveiling of Zwelethu Mthethwa's commissioned work for Absolut Vodka, Zwelethu being the first artist from Africa to be invited to join the galaxy of international art superstars who have made work for Absolut. Naturally, the Absolut vodka bottle is the subject of the piece.

The Long Gallery has been turned into the sexiest bar ever seen at the AVA, with translucent cocktails - all vodka-based of course - being dispensed to the expectant crowd. Inside, sweet music from a sharply dressed duo, friends of the artist, on keyboards and sax add an extra riff to the party atmosphere.

Absolut Zwelethu is a painting of a lively scene in which the woman in the foreground carries a bottle of Absolut on her head - two little clouds on either side of the bottle seem to double as angels' wings. There are speeches, then Zwelethu speaks, telling us that everyone who received a number on entering - all those on the guest list - will receive a full colour signed lithograph version of the piece. 'Don't sell it,' he admonishes, 'It may be worth something in a few years.'

The edition of the print is 250, and this wonderfully surprising act by the artist is generous in the extreme.

Thursday, August 4

Fernando Alvim, artist, ex-director of Brussels' Camouflage Gallery, editor of Co@artnews, and organising brain behind the upcoming Luanda Triennal is in town. Without prior warning, of course. With him is chief Triennal curator Albano Cordoza and colleague Diago. So it's supper at Bukhara to hear all about the plans for Africa's newest mega art event. Fernando brings his laptop to the restaurant to give the presentation, but after divulging some intriguing details, enough red wine has been consumed to make the sensible decision to postpone the full presentation to Monday morning.

Saturday, August 6

Incepted in 2003, CAPE is a cultural initiative spearheaded by Susan Glanville with its stated mission: 'Connecting the Local, the African and the Global - Viability, Visibility and Vision'. Others on the organising committee include architect Mokena Makeka, Pro Helvetia director Mirjam Asmal, editor/curator Sophie Perryer and independent curators Roger van Wyk and Robert Weinek. CAPE plans to present an international conference in late November this year, followed by an international art event next year as part of an ongoing programme. Today there is a meeting of the CAPE people plus other art world figures such as Khwezi Gule, Rory Bester, Storm Janse van Rensburg, Zayd Minty, Virginia McKenny and myself, to discuss agenda details for the conference, which will take place over three days. ArtThrob will run a special issue on Art and Social Development in the Western Cape in November.

Monday, August 8

Fernando Alvim and his team arrive at the studio to make their presentation on the Luanda Triennal. I am extremely impressed by the conceptual vision and the amount of planning detail which is going into the this new art event - will write this up for a special feature in News.

Wednesday, August 10

Arriving from Ghana today is American photographer Pat Ward Williams. No stranger to this country - she was on the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, has taught at Wits and done a residency at Greatmore Studios in Cape Town - Pat will stay with me for 10 days to work on our collaborative piece for a show at The Light Factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, next January.

Tonight is the opening of ArtThrob design editor Ralph Borland's public art piece. Cape Town is short on good public art pieces, and this one is welcome. The evening is cold and blustery, and everyone is warmly dressed at Jetty Square, the rather obscure spot on the foreshore between the Tulbagh Centre and the Vodacom Building where the sharks will swim unceasingly. It's near the corner of Adderley Street and the Hertzog Boulevard. Five skeletal sharks swim over the heads of the crowd, turning with the wind, and animating this previously dead space. As Ralph points out in his opening speech, the foreshore was once under water, so in a sense, the sharks are ghosts returning to reclaim their territory. For more, visit

Regrettably, miss Jo Schonfeldt's opening at the Centre for African Studies at UCT. The calendar is too full.

Thursday, August 11

Every year, I address a group of UCT art historian Michael Godby's students on the question of how one writes art reviews. After my debatable words of wisdom they go away to find an exhibition they wish to review and the results are published in ArtThrob as student reviews. The programme is intended to encourage young writers.

This year, the group meets Pat Ward Williams and I at Michael Stevenson's to contemplate the John Murray/Claudette Schreuders show. I always enjoy hearing what the students have to say, and afterwards Pat and I ask the students to give us their views on our project - which will in some way be based on changing attitudes on race relations - over tea.

Tuesday, August 16

Algerian artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah is in Cape Town for a three month residency, and today she presents her video work at the SANG for a lunchtime audience. Simply constructed - the lighting on a wedding dress deepens from light to dark, the artist painfully pulls a necklace from her mouth which turns out to be a rosary - each piece has a strong metaphorical message. See Kim Gurney's review.

Durban artist Thando Mama is in the audience. Haven't seen him since we were at Dak'Art last year. He tells me he has also been accepted for the Montalvo arts residency programme in California, the one I will go to in September, but has not yet decided on a date. Artists have three years in which to take up the residency.

Wednesday, August 17

From New York, Laurie Farrell of the Museum for African Art in New York has flown in - here for a meeting of the curators and organisers of 'Personal Affects', the South African group show which took place at the Museum and St John the Divine Cathedral last year. Sponsored largely by Spier, 'Personal Affects' is now scheduled to move to Hawaii next year, and some of the artists will go to install work and be present at the opening.

Thursday, August 18

The opening of the month - at Michael Stevenson Contemporary, 'In the making: materials and process', the Sophie Perryer curated show which brings together 11 artists known for their innovative use of materials in their work. The show looks stunning. A real tour de force for curator and participating artists alike, all of whom made new work specifically for this show. See Andrew Lamprecht's review. From Nigeria, the venerable El Anatsui has sent what appears to be a magnificent gleaming cloth in the grand tradition of African textiles, but the piece is in fact constructed from small cut pieces of metal like the printed screw caps of liquor bottles.

Also in metal, is Doreen Southwood's ceiling-high panel of pale blue steel, on which thousands of tiny nuts and washers have been painstakingly arranged into a rich raised brocade-like design - all held in place by magnets on the back of the panel.

Sophie looks great in black pleated Issey Miyake and the gallery buzzes with that particular energy generated by a truly exciting show.

Saturday, August 19

Pat and I meet Laurie Farrell outside the João Ferreira Gallery at lunchtime, and do a bit of gallery hopping - Nadja Daehnke at João's (see Lloyd Pollak's review) and the show of multiples - prints and Louis Vuitton handbags - at 34 on Long, before going for a sushi lunch at the Camp's Bay Fish Market and a walk on the rocks at the beach. After cold rain the whole week, the day is gorgeous. Pat and Laurie both leave tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 24

Lunch with Andrew Lamprecht at the Five Flies. Andrew is on sabbatical, and writing furiously. He will guest edit the next issue of ArtThrob on a theme of art books and writers.

Thursday, August 25

Out to Stellenbosch to give a lecture about my work at the art school, followed by a tour of the school given by Katherine Bull. Stellenbosch has always been known for imparting strong figurative painting skills, but today, for whatever reasons, the painting studios are almost empty, and the computer lab is full.

The school has been awaiting the announcement of a replacement for the highly respected Alan Alborough who resigned as lecturer earlier this year. This announcement will be made soon.