Writing Art History Since 2002

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Erdmann Contemporary Cape Town

When I walked into Sunday Afternoon, an exhibition of sculptures and prints by Francois van Reenen, I was struck by vague memories of my childhood. I mostly remembered having to be quiet on Sunday afternoons, because my parents were napping. Actually, our whole suburban neighbourhood was dead quiet – and white. Van Reenen’s sculptures are able to vividly evoke these memories, probably because they strongly convey an atmosphere of nostalgia, inertia and blandness. In this regard, one sculpture is particularly emblematic: a man snoozes with his head on the back of a turquoise sofa while a sluggish black dog rests at his side.Van Reenen’s particular brand of nostalgia is further reinforced by the way in which his characters are represented. Apart from the diminutive scale of the figures and the enamel paint, other motifs add to this effect. The male characters are often dressed in shapeless grey slacks or shorts, white T-shirts, and with hair combed back. One piece features a particularly strong nostalgic signifier. In it, the man from the sofa (presumably) is taking a leisurely drive in a Cadillac, once again with his faithful dog, ears blowing in the wind.he ages of the characters vary from the youthful to the aged, but they are always seemingly oblivious of the world around them, as though caught up in their own thoughts. In this way, the boy who ambiguously holds a fish he has just caught is placed almost on a par with the bouffant tourist rooted in his tracks. Both seem to not quite know what they are meant to be doing, and why they are there in the first place.One is able to discern a consistent concern throughout the show, namely that of companionship and loneliness, or, connection versus alienation. Very seldom are relationships set up between human characters. Rather, the companion is usually a dog. To my mind, this implies a sense of disassociation from the external world, perhaps suggesting a preference for the uncomplicated and the unwaveringly loyal friendships offered by animals.Feeling out of place could be another way of describing the emotions of many figures in the exhibition. Shy Girl, for instance, hides her face from her audience. In doing so, however, she inadvertently exposes her white panties, on which a pink heart has been printed. In a way, Shy Girl captures the dynamic of the rest of the work. While the characters are desperately oblivious, they also reveal tender, fallible human attributes. Even as they hide away from intruding looks, they show us things we can really relate to. Carine Zaayman

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