South African Cultural Observatory

SAADAH Annual Art and Design Expo

BY Danny Shorkend 01.04.17

I WAS fortunate to attend the exhibition of SAADA – South African Antique, Art and Design Association – to coincide with the Cape Town Art Fair opening at the CTICC. SAADA is a member of CINOA, the international confederation of dealers of art.

 Held at the Look Out at the V & A Waterfront, a picturesque setting that lends itself to a wonderful journey in contemporary art and design as well as historic pieces, including furniture, coins and interesting memorabilia. I enjoyed scanning the works on offer, every now and then dipping in a bit closer, checking the price tag as a kind of childish game and then listening in on the hum of the other patrons, many of whom were clearly beyond the borders of South Africa.

 Some pieces that caught my eye were Caitlin Truman-Baker’s work represented by Manzart. Her work appears mystical and mythological, Chagall-like surreal mindscapes with beautiful effect, a narrative that appears to inspire a kind of moonlit, poetic landscape, a dematerialisation of matter, a spiritual journey embodied within or as changing vessels.

 Even more traditional or kitsch works capturing the so-called big five were enthralling. In particular the work of David Filer reveals excellent drawing techniques and a real engagement with specifically the big cats.


Then I was uplifted with a showcase of fine jewellery (for example Frankli Wild) and fantastic artefacts, calligraphy and furniture screens from Japan.

 It was also interesting to see Michaelis School of Fine Arts contribution. One finds that there is wall space left empty, photographs untitled, and works not priced and anonymous. My reading is that this functions as a counter – at least conceptually – to the race for the “big name” or the big sale. Perhaps then such works highlights the superficiality of the art world, at least at the business end? Yet that should not deter one from engagement with art or its application to other fields of inquiry. For the imaginative and creative function is perhaps indispensable to society and may even result in a paradigm shift, a new perspective, an innovative idea or tool and so on. An expo of this kind therefore has the potential to ignite new ideas over and above a sales event. At any rate, the experience of sipping wine and observing an artists community of sorts reminded one that many people do indeed value art and that is heart-warming, even if that was tinged by the obvious hackling for the sale, the incessant desire to create products and services packaged “professionally”, oblivious at times to deeper meaning, to philosophical depth. An idea swallowed up by the beast of consumer culture. Yet to complicate matters, art is also a vocation, so who can escape – for lackt of a better word – the system?

 I must observe though that notwithstanding some beautiful pieces, the African presence - whatever that may mean is of course debatable – seemed somewhat lacking.

 There was also a notable copied selection of old masters’ portraits by Frans Hals, Rembrandt and Van Gogh revisited and then reworked apparently “slapdash” by the artists Frans Smit. One recognises these works of yesteryear painted over in decidedly what may be termed a post modern, popish stylistic intervention. It appeared as a deconstruction of the past and of the icons of so-called Western European portraiture. In this playfulness, if you will, perhaps my desire to counter the old traditional subjects/objects on display is here made possible. Of course these works themselves were not “cheap”.

 Zander Bloom represented by Joao Ferreira is equally scathing of traditional painting and its corresponding ideological construct as her blobs and impasto paint smeared on a pinkish surface is a self-conscious rawness of emotion or perhaps just highlights the materiality of paint and therefore the shaky ground or edifice that is created through systems and traditions of paintings and the ideas or systems it upholds or magically helps to forge. That is, the entire hullabaloo surrounding whole systems or styles of art and ideas it purports to uphold or embody is but paint!

 On the whole, it was intriguing to see Fine art together with design and the like, especially the addition of works four to five centuries old, including paintings, maps and furniture. Even though I may have problemistised the business of art, one cannot ignore the fact that ownership of these objects in a setting of ones own choice perhaps does elevate the heart and mind, notwithstanding the philosophical question as to the complicated arguments around what we value, that is, the difficulty of subscribing to one or any notion of aesthetic beauty.



SITUATED in the beautiful Franschoek, I was happy to see the work of Kali van der Merwe. Powerful and profound, her work stirs one’s senses and reason in terms of philosophical speculation on the question concerning the relationship between life and death. Based on relics and bodies that she encounters on her farm residence, she has created images of uncanny scientific, taxidermical and magical qualities. There is a sense of structure and order, yet one “imposed” beyond the assumed categories of the sciences. Her path therefore is embraces both a desire to know nature and one that is in awe of – and complicit with – the unfolding of the natural and cosmological realms.

Paintings, prints and sculptures by Nicolaas Maritz Paintings, prints and sculptures by Nicolaas Maritz

ENERGETIC swirls and splotches, sinewy line and strong sweeping gestures in luminous enamel as abstracted faces emerge make for a powerful gallery experience. Maritz can capture both a primitive and primal impulse as well as a kind of digital all- pervasiveness that is compelling as an icon of current portend. Over and above this, he has captured a kind of spirit-energy of the collective human imagination. The faces are abstracted in their child-like simplicity, yet ooze with life. Life as it emanates from the subtle sensing apparatus: two eyes and two ears, a mouth and two nostrils. These are the mediators between what is inside and what is outside. These are the doors of perception that negotiate concrete and a not so concrete sense of the real.


The other side of SA fashion The other side of SA fashion

INTERROGATING the world of South African fashion, photographer Johnny Lai Sang has produced images of rare complexity. On the one hand, full of the glitter and glamour of this world and yet on the other hand, a murky, darker, shadow-side emerges. This is captured through an understanding of his craft where contrasts of colour, intensity of light, the ability to focus and yet not focus the lens and an eye for alternative perspectives and vantage points contribute to an interesting show, one well worth a visit.

Be kind. Please rewind. Be kind. Please rewind.

A NEW vision, one that focuses on the medium of film and video, a first for this country, is perplexing, riveting and surprising all at the same time. The gallery blurb describes the show as one that “seeks to explore the various complexities of video’s relationship to the construction and perception of history and memory”.


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