Writing Art History Since 2002

First Title

According to Goodman Gallery Cape’s press release, Jeremy Wafer’s Recent Works emerged from a “declared interest in the performative aspects of minimalism”. I do not wish to analyse this text, neither launch into a discussion on Gestalt psychology and the theories of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (both of which are regularly associated with Minimalism from the 1960s), however it is worth mentioning that, in general, gallery texts serve to contextualise exhibitions.

When a text highlights particular formal aspects of artworks and the relationship thereof to the viewer’s physical and psychological presence, it creates the expectation that these aspects have been considered carefully and probably form the phenomenological basis of the viewer’s experience.Wafer’s work does, of course, have a minimal aesthetic and has been described as “post-Minimalist” in the sense that he (along with many other contemporary artists) uses aspects of Minimalism as an aesthetic and/or conceptual point of reference. However, the associative values of his materials and forms have thus far been important and his work has, to the best of my knowledge, never been entirely self-referential.Recent Works included two wall-mounted disks, White Clay and Black Dust, covered in materials that Wafer has used in the past to allude to traditional healing and initiation rituals as well as a rural/urban divide. Border and Crossing are also not dissimilar earlier works in which the artist used cartography and combinations of aerial and macro photography to refer to the socio-political and psychological implications of the division of land.Apart from fairly obvious Minimalist references, the two large-scale wax and steel sculptures in the exhibition, titled Arch and Floor, their shapes repeated in pencil and varnish drawings made directly onto the wall, were potentially a continuation of Wafer’s use of barriers as an exploration of the metaphoric implications of interior and exterior space. This allusion to inclusion and exclusion may also have been implied in a series of untitled drawings (again in pencil and varnish), another series with silhouetted shapes made in bitumen on paper and two sets of paper cut-outs with line drawings. The majority of these geometric drawings and cut-outs seemed to suggest structures that could be associated with buildings, a relationship reinforced by the use of specific materials and the mock perspective commonly found in technical drawings.Wafer’s geometric syntax, references to cartography and use of aerial photography could, on a visual level at least, be compared to works created by Minimalist artists like Robert Smithson in the late 1960s. One also cannot help but to compare the drawings and cut-outs in Recent Works to the systematic geometric explorations of Sol LeWitt, or even Joseph Albers’s house-like images. Without harping on about the merits and pitfalls of, the differences between, and the contemporary relevance of fairly ill-defined art-historical categories such as Minimalism, Conceptual Minimalism, Neo-Minimalism and Concrete Art, it bears noting that in certain aspects Wafer’s Recent Works was potentially retrogressive, even derivative.Even if Recent Works had indeed only tackled the so-called “performative aspects of minimalism”, the exhibition as a whole still did not create the type of tension or impressive visual presence one might have expected of this respected artist. Although the larger floor and wall-based works did, to an extent, make viewers aware of the gallery as a space, neither the scale of the works in relation to each other, the proverbial “viewer” and the space itself, nor the placement of these works appeared to have been resolved. Furthermore, the surface finishing on certain artworks did not conform to the so-called “finish fetish” often associated with Minimalist work.

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