Justin Brett’s first solo offering, Out of Sight, takes Graaff’s pool as a point of intersection for issues of desire, homosexuality, masculinity and a dirty kind of scopophilia.
In 2002, Democratic Alliance ward councillor JP Smith handed in a request to council to tear down a seemingly innocuous old wall in Sea Point. This wall screened a bathing pool and tanning deck from public view and with its eventual demolition in 2005, Graaff’s pool, a space that Neville Dubow once described as “a three-dimensional manifestation of our social history” was destroyed. The gaze that the wall had been shielding chased away the naked sunbathers, cruising gay men and, apparently, the paedophiles, criminals and sex fiends – rendering Graaff’s pool an empty space behind a broken wall.Justin Brett’s first solo offering, Out of Sight, takes Graaff’s pool as a point of intersection for issues of desire, homosexuality, masculinity and a dirty kind of scopophilia. His work ranged from meticulous pencil drawings of hot boys in Speedos to gauged, scratched, compulsively overworked watercolours, also a perfectly white corridor leading to nothing and a floor embedded in dark shale. Built originally by the father of United Party leader, Sir De Villiers Graaff, Graaff’s pool became a gentleman’s club, a gathering point for Jewish men and a legendary cruising spot – often at the same time – with the space behind the wall recently named as a space of prostitution, paedophilia and crime. In the build-up to the wall’s demolition, this space became a talking point for issues of sexual freedom, separation and privilege and the danger of that which cannot be seen, or named.Brett’s work is unnerving. The pretty graphite drawings (Devotion, 2009) are undercut by the pale shivering bodies of young boys (The Lost Boys, 2009) and wounded, burning figures (Burn Boys, 2009), each one with their pubis erased, their bodies disfigured and their subjectivity washed away. Like the wall at Graaff’s pool, it is what is hidden from these images that is most intriguing.These paintings are certainly a triumph in and of themselves. What is most exciting about Out of Sight, though, is the ingenious play of installation and curatorship, an artist using the AVA to its full potential, quite possibly for the first time.The Long Gallery is used for The Passage on one side, a narrow pathway mirroring the architecture of Graaff’s pool, and meticulously boarded up in white on the other. Broken slate pieces lead our eyes to the Burn Boys’ haunting stares. From any viewpoint in the exhibition space, Out of Sight presents intelligent questions, ambiguous relationships and disquieting stances. An excellent first solo show, and an important starting point for investigations into the gay body, Out of Sight is subtle, beautiful and filled with a quiet intelligence that is always questioning the viewer’s own tormented gaze.