'Review' at 34Long
by Samuel Waumsley
The antique façade of gallery 34Long belies the cutting-edge exhibition of contemporary art on offer inside. 'Review' claims to offer a selection of the best pieces from the gallery's inventory. With big names like Damien Hirst, Marlene Dumas and William Kentridge, the selection on this group show is certainly impressive.
The show is presented on two levels with the ground floor containing mostly framed and hung work, with mixed media and sculptural pieces upstairs. On the ground floor, limited production prints by Hirst and Kentridge amongst others line the walls; upstairs are sculptures from artists like Norman Catherine and Esther Mahlangu. It is a unique experience to enter the gallery and be faced with Damien Hirst polka-dot abstraction right next to Conrad Botes' emotive character sketching.
The collection is an amalgamation of many very different artists, styles and media. While it is eclectic, perhaps it is the high quality of almost all the work on show that could be said to be the common denominator. Indeed, as the brief curatorial statement explains, the exhibition is a selection of the 'the best' of the gallery's inventory.
The light and airy atmosphere at 34Long is maintained throughout the exhibition with the familiar white cube formula of white walls and brilliant lighting. The white 'vacuum' provides a necessarily neutral space for a fairly diverse collection of art. The uniform mounting of all the prints downstairs in the same plain, white frame, coupled with the spacious interval accorded to each piece further succeeds in calming the sometimes vivid contrast between the disparate works on offer.
With placements like Dumas' Lonely at the Top alongside Chiho Aoshima's computer drawn Untitled, a dichotomy is set up between very different artists and art. Similarly Murakami's Killer Pink, which consists of a repeated computer generated graphic design of a colourful flower, is hung next to a commissioned oil painting by South African Zwelethu Mthethwa. The contrast in content, style and medium is striking but interestingly also highlights what is unique about each piece. This rather unconventional yet refreshing positioning is typical of the eclectic exhibition as a whole. The uniform spacing and framing also seem to function in a democratising manner, presenting all the work downstairs as equally worthy, the multitude of stylistic differences subsumed into one category: framed visual art.
The curatorial focus on popular computer graphics and illustration is evident in the striking large format of the collaborative piece by Matt Hindley and Peter Eastman. It is also reflected in the curators' inclusion of a number of Japanese anime works: the computer graphics and cartoons of mass culture are presented equitably alongside 'high art' media like painting. Conrad Botes of Bittercomix fame is perhaps similarly validated as being part of this high art domain with his rather sinister and seedy South African contextualised comic portraiture. While the inclusion of such non-traditional popular media in high art is not new, its placement alongside the likes of Dumas and Hirst is refreshing.
The number of Japanese anime artists featured in 'Review' act as a precursor to an upcoming exhibition of the well-known graphic artist and KaiKai KiKi member Mr. The famous KaiKai KiKi collective in Japan, fronted by Murakami, trains its artists in traditional Japanese painting before allowing them to move into more contemporary graphic media. The traditional Japanese rendering of a tree with a more modern addition of a bound anime figure by Chiho Aoshima in Untitled exemplifies this mix of traditional and modern styles. Yoshitomo Nara's Guitar Girl and Mr's Toughness Cover offer more of the KaiKai KiKi collective's avant-garde graphic anime style.
Upstairs, a similarly mixed collection is on show with Norman Catherine's psychological sculptures set alongside Esther Mahlangu's traditionally inspired Ndebele bead and pattern work. Mahlangu's work is perhaps especially worth seeing as it translates traditional Ndebele art and craft into the modern fine art context very successfully without altering or downgrading such traditional media.
An early work by Willie Bester, entitled House, is displayed with some of his more recent works like Bottle that might be said to combine traditional still-life painting with an overt political South African content. In line with the eclectic nature and arrangement of 'Review', two works by Japanese Mr. appear among the predominantly South African pieces upstairs.
'Review' succeeds in providing a unique selection of some excellent fine art. The remarkable variety on offer ensures that there is something for everyone in an exhibition that is really worth seeing.
Samuel Waumsley is an honours student at the UCT History of Art Department
Opens: August 8
Closes: September 9
34 Long Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 426 4594
Hours: Tue - Fri 9am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 2pm