For his sixth solo exhibition at STEVENSON, Wim Botha has created three installations, each occupying an entire room. The show is characterised by the complex interplay of traditional materials, such as marble, bronze, wood and oil paint, and ephemeral materials such as cardboard and polystyrene which allow him to continue a recent turn in his work towards spontaneity, improvisation and coincidence.
In the first gallery, Botha presents a large-scale bronze inspired by the Greek sculpture Laocoön and His Sons, excavated in 1506 and now on display in the Vatican. In 2003 Botha visited the Vatican Museums where he photographed and measured the dimensions of this iconic work with the intention of realising a sculpture inspired by it. He finally found his approach to the work with his discovery of polystyrene as a medium for fluid, expressive carving, allowing him to loosely translate the figures of the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons being attacked by sea serpents into abstracted and gestural forms. These forms have been cast in bronze; a second cast is included in the exhibition The Divine Comedy, curated by Simon Njami, which opens at the MMK (Museum für Moderne Kunst) Frankfurt in late March 2014.
In the next gallery, the artist has created a hermetic world in which blackened, roughly carved wooden heads and busts carved in white Carrara marble form the portals for the installation. Further elements include a large pair of black bronze wings and one of Botha's angular infinity forms which he terms 'gravity machines', surrounded by studies of clouds on the walls. In the third gallery Botha surprises us with an installation of dramatic wing-like figures made from corrugated cardboard. The three galleries are linked by a single black wooden line suggesting the outline of walls and doors and conveying the construct of space. Epic in scale and composition, Botha's environments owe their powerful presence to a tension between the lightness of his sculptural forms and the weight of art history.
Last year Botha won the Helgaard Steyn Prize for sculpture, awarded every four years, for his public artwork Blastwave at the Nedbank headquarters in Johannesburg. Recent solo exhibitions have taken place at Kunstraum Innsbruck, Austria, and Galerie Jette Rudolph in Berlin, and he has an upcoming show at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, in July. Botha was included on Imaginary Fact: South African art and the archive, the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale.
The exhibition opens on Wednesday 26 February, 6-8pm.
The gallery is open from Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturday 10am to 1pm.
Botha will give a walkabout in support of the Friends of the National Gallery on Friday 28 February at 11am. Cost is R20 (members and non-members); all are welcome.