Although it is an immense space, the Norval has not tried to put too much artwork into its galleries. It has found a delicate balance between being sparse and bare, and making use of space and curation without making it feel overwhelming.
Starting with Structural Response III (2018), Serge Alain Nitegeka’s enormous wood installation in the atrium, it immediately challenges the notion of galleries having sparsely-filled walls and wide open spaces. “The theme of disrupted lives disrupted work and disrupted spaces…is intended to enable a discussion about displacement” (Norval Foundation).
Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi’s Batlhaping Ba Re! exhibition is currently on and the curator has made good use of the large walls exhibiting art from the artist’s earlier works – going back fifty years. It was surprising to see that some of Sebidi’s earlier work had an impressionist feel to it, as illustrated by Landscape: A View of African Rural Life (1979)compared to what now seems like her signature use of disfiguration and abstraction of the human form. There is a collection of sculptures, etchings, and paintings, all of which take up the entire gallery space.
Moving around the artwork, many of which are loans from other galleries, you notice the evolution of her work, especially as it relates to her subtle move away from bolder use of colour to more muted colours of browns and charcoal. The struggle of black women foregrounds much of her work. She explores urban migration as she saw it in the 80s during the apartheid years, as well as themes of identity, the politics of land and animism. Her more well-known Tears of Africa I (1988-1989), a large-scale diptych, perhaps the best depiction of economic migration and urbanization, is even more imposing in real life. It has become referenced by another artist, Sam Nhlengethwa in his Tribute to Helen Sebidi lithograph from his Tribute series.
Tears of Africa II (2016) takes on the more global theme of slavery, but as the curator’s notes highlight, she still pulls in the theme of the earth and its destruction, an enduring theme in much of her work.
Wim Botha’s Heliostat exhibition is a curious mélange of light shows and contemporary displays, renaissance sculptures, and graphic deconstructions. The pieces in the exhibition include key works by the artist spanning twenty years. It shows the wide range of the artist’s work, which does not reveal one signature style. This is both refreshing and disconcerting all at once. I liked the sci-fi like Study for the Epic Mundane (2013) as much as the Mieliepap Pietà (2004) – a strange juxtaposition of the contemporary and the Renaissance. Botha’s installations are enormous and intimidating in their scale on one hand, as illustrated by Time Machine (2012), then delicate and nuanced on the other, as can be seen by his Blastwave I-IV (2005) linoleum cut, which depicts a tree being destroyed by a gust of wind.
His work is defined by his reconstruction of famous artists’ work. His Mieliepap Pietà is inspired by Michaelangelo’s Pietà (1498-99), whilst his Blast wave I-IV has referenced the landscape work of Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957). The curator’s note on Botha’s art points not only to the artist’s desire to challenge the canon of famous artists’ work but to also bring into context the South African historical context. It is an interesting take on both his admiration for and critique of Western art, from which he ironically draws his inspiration.
Currently on at the Collector’s Focus exhibition is Vedanã: Experiences of Tonality in the Véronique Susman-Savigne Collection. A collection of works by artists such as Cinga Samsom, Nicholas Hlobo, Kemang Wa Lehulere, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are on display. This exhibition is calming. From the use of pastel colours on the walls to the artwork on display, the curation feels more restrained than Botha or Sebidi’s exhibitions. It is a genius concept by the Norval to collaborate with collectors in showcasing private collections in this way.