by Sue Williamson
What does it say about a group of artists when the invitations sent out for their show feature a low angle photograph of each of the fab four gazing down into the camera? (Collect a set! Swop with friends!) That the artists believe that the buzz surrounding their personae (well, not Gimberg, he's been quite quiet up to now) is of more importance than presenting images of the actual work on the show? That the chin-up, looking down pose is deliberately intended to get up the nose of all those who think their work is all flash and no substance?
'Gimberg/Nerf/Sacks/Young' took place at the new Stellenbosch Modern And Contemporary, (SMAC) opening to coincide with 'Cape '07' and there is something of a common aesthetic in the work on show. A jokiness. A tendency to pun and to play with words and intellectual ideas, a strategy which here works about 65% of the time. Not a bad average, and one finds oneself smiling slightly as the good barbs reach target.
Using handsome deco letters, Christian Nerf puts up a piece entitled Bad artist. The letters spell out the name of one of other participants, with a few letters missing. Douglas Gimberg finds a frame with elegant pleated plaster corners, covers it in layers of (I assume) matte white gesso, and hangs this immaculate frame from a single custom made chromed steel nail, with the word 'GOD' embedded in the head. This piece is entitled Easy Money. Subtitle: Found frame for Pierro della Francesca's Flagellation of Christ Suspended from God. We learn that this is 'one of six works in a recent series titled Renaissance Paintings a collection of work exploring Christian metaphors for God'. It would have been instructive to have viewed the other five, but they are not on show.
Ed Young appropriates the classic bumper sticker I (heart symbol) New York, and by changing the Y to a W, expressing the genuine welling up of feeling that occurs in the breast of the artist who makes something of a breakthrough in his/her work, and can finally move on from the old stuff.
On an industrial rack of steel shelving, Ruth Sacks (probably by this time her mind was on Paris where she will be located for six months as winner of the ABSA l'Atelier prize) presented MFA Bilbliography 2007. Stacked on the racks were all the books on art and art criticism the diligent student reads to prepare for an MFA. But don't judge these books by their covers. The contents are random, found objects, with no relation at all to their erudite covers.
This is as much an artistic cul-de-sac as, in its way, Young's video, Dialogue/Bonami/Bourriaurd in which the artist has removed all intelligible comment from the mouths of his two interviewees, noted curator Francesco Bonami and art theorist Nicholas Bourriaurd, editing their conversation down to a series of ums and ahs. Taking existing footage and editing it radically to suit the purpose of the editor is hardly a new technique, but in this case totally allowable since the footage was shot by Young himself, working with Andrew Lamprecht some four years ago to make a film about the Venice Biennale intended to enlighten the students back home.
The piece with the greatest visual punch is perhaps Nerf's The United States 2003, described as a project that 'one suspects articulates the current Bush administration's desires more effectively than Bush himself could ever hope to.' Remembering that each star on the flag represents one state in the union, Nerf varies his flag from showing to showing...
Tying the whole witty exhibition together is a substantial contribution from the indefatigable Kathryn Smith, who for the occasion solicited contributions from a commendably wide range of artworld personae, including international figures such as Robert Storr and Brian Eno on the subject of the 'avant garde', what the term means, and whether it still holds currency in the contemporary art world. Entitled One million and forty four years (and sixty three days) (see Book Reviews) and published in a limited edition of 500 copies, the book makes a real and lasting contribution to the debate.
As does �Gimberg/Nerf/Sacks/Young�.
Opened: March 21
Closed: May 5
Stellenbosch Modern And Contemporary
De Wet Centre, Church Street, Stellenbosch
Tel: (021) 882 8335
Hours: Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm, Sat 9.30am - 5.30pm, Sun 10am - 6pm