Writing Art History Since 2002

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Artspace Fine Art Gallery | Johannesburg

The title of this series of exhibitions, Oppitafel, translates as ‘on the table’ and artists are supposed to produce works that relate in some way to tables. The choice of artist is fairly random and each show includes a large number of participants. There were 16 artists in Oppitafel III, a fair mixture of well-known and emerging figures.Diek Grobler was represented by At the Conqueror’s Table, a large scraperboard work having surrealistic guests and their body parts assembled for lunch around a table. Knives and forks embed themselves into the surface, which looks like a map. Ian Waldeck showed an iconoclastic work from his Masters series, two images of Picasso’s Bottle and Glass. Waldeck fragments one and spills the pieces onto the other, gluing them where they fall. Susan Wolf made an interesting sculptural glass and metal table that jutted from the wall with aluminium shapes lodged through it. These created a shadow on the floor that was shorthand for the work’s title, Table of Contents.Much of the art had only tenuous links with the theme. Alison Kearney’s plaster casts of the poison section in her much vaunted Portable Hawker’s Museum is a case in point. Her contention is that plaster reproductions of famous works in antiquity were created to perpetuate notions of cultural value. Her casts therefore challenge this discourse within art history. This is the issue ‘on the table’, so to speak.Nirupa Sing created a shrine with lights and other glittery baubles that was inspired by Divali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Apart from being very decorative, it did not offer much enlightenment on its mythological origins. Situated right on top of her installation was a table covered in silver jewellery by Marchand van Tonder. He creates very unusual but quite exquisite cutlery and rings, sometimes bedecked with frogs and insects.As to be expected, there was very little unity in the exhibition and works were crowded together making it difficult to appreciate individual contributions. Some artists did make an impression, lending character to the whole. Having a theme would require artists to respond either with new pieces or existing works congruent to the theme. One’s overall impression, however, was that many simply submitted whatever was around at the time. Ashley Johnson an artist and art critic with Business Day

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