Writing Art History Since 2002

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Michael Stevenson Contemporary | Cape Town

Leda and the swan, 2005, bonemeal, marble, epoxy resin, webbing, 78 x 150 x 108cmWriting on Wim Botha’s work in a previous edition of Art South Africa, Hazel Friedman identifies two recurring themes in his art: death and sex. True enough, but what is left out of this observation is the way in which these two primal drives are always bedded with very particular concerns in his oeuvre: with violence, power and a certain mode of masculinity. As foretold in the more legible part of the title of Botha’s second solo show Cold Fusion: Gods, Heroes and Martyrs, male figures performing macho roles stand central to this show: they rape, they kill, they destroy, they reign.In the first room – exquisitely installed and masterly crafted – is Zeus-as-swan seducing Leda. Sculpted in bone meal mixed with epoxy, the work is fragmented, each piece suspended with a ribbon: the moment of seduction inverted to show the moment of loss and destruction. Similar inversions are also present in the small bronzes of the young Isaac slitting Abraham’s throat and a mythologically ever-happy satyr wrestling Bacchus. Entitled Premonitions of War, these bronzes depict in exacting detail historical falsities but psychological probabilities, because what else would Isaac have done when he found that his father Abraham was intending to sacrifice him, and how long would the satyrs remain the mute slaves of an abusive Bacchus?It is this notion of probability that returns us to the more obscure part of the title of the exhibition and also to the central room of this installation. In science, the term “cold fusion” refers to a utopian if suspect theory of low energy that is, as one scientist put it, a remote possibility rather than an expectation. It is a search for the ultimate power, even if that power is benign. And here, in the middle room of the show is an implosion of energy – a stained glass window depicting a nuclear explosion over various panes, a series of linocut Pierneef-like trees being swept away by the blaze – all of this under a pressed ceiling, slowly collapsing.As always in Botha’s art, interpretation doesn’t come easily. As a whole the exhibition speaks pessimistically of power and corruption, even as it explores alternative possibilities. Traversing different media of bronze, meal, wood, paint and print, Botha lives up to his reputation as an adept artist. But it is the conceptual breadth of this challenging show that truly impresses.

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