Critic’s Guide: Cape Town

A round-up of the best shows on view now

BY Sean O'Toole in Critic's Guides | 18 MAY 16

Gerda Scheepers, Sitcom (Normal Living), 2016, fabric, wood, found clothing, foam and acrylic paint, 70 x 57 x 192 cm. Courtesy: the artist and blank projects, Cape Town

Gerda Scheepers, ‘Sitcom’
blank projects
14 Apr – 28 May

‘Sitcom’ is the third solo exhibition with Blank Projects by Gerda Scheepers, a repatriated South African artist who studied at the Dusseldorf Art Academy under Rosemarie Trockel and forged her early career in Berlin. The titular work here, Sitcom (2016), is composed of various deconstructed elements of a couch featuring additional fabric silhouettes portraying body parts. It helps, possibly, to know that Scheepers has produced theatre props before.

Her exhibition also includes two abstract murals, both featuring fey brush marks floating in a restive sea of undifferentiated colour, as well as various wall-hung sculptures in the style of the main installation. Scheepers’s works can sometimes look like rehearsals of something bigger, which is largely where their appeal resides: her tentative, often fragile pieces skip and dance to a winsome melody, where most sculptors locally prefer to plod to a national anthem. 

Moshekwa Langa, Metseng, 2015, mixed media on paper, 1 x 1.4 m. Courtesy: Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg; © Moshekwa Langa

Moshekwa Langa, ‘Ellipses’
14 Apr – 28 May

‘Ellipses’, Moshekwa Langa’s first solo exhibition since leaving Goodman Gallery for Stevenson, marks a confident return to form. His show is composed of numerous ink drawings, many featuring additional beige masking tape. Some works are wholly abstract, while others explore his diverse interests in landscape, cartoon-like portraiture and word association mapping, as in Metseng (2015). This work shows Langa’s ability to brilliantly orchestrate anarchy – random ink lines, washes of colour, cryptic words and overlays of masking tape – into a visual coherence. It also builds a bridge to Mpedi-Bapedi (2015), a lead-coloured work on paper featuring rhythmic lines that is oddly suggestive of Ernest Mancoba. The elegiac colour tone of this paper work chimes with nearby Veiled Landscape (2010-16), a floor-based installation composed of various game balls draped in grey fabric to connote an abstract landscape. 

Banele Khoza, Second Sun, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 64 x 94 cm. Courtesy: the artist and SMITH studio, Cape Town

SMITH studio
10 May – 28 May

This showcase of six painters and printmakers is channelled through a popular local theme: landscape. Zimbabwean painter Richard Witikani’s fauvist studies of rural plenitude are the most conventional, although Kunzvi Hill (2012) is not without bite: the valley portrayed is at the centre of a new Chinese-led dam project. Banele Khoza, a young Pretoria painter who briefly studied fashion, is least involved with curator Amy Ellenbogen’s overarching theme. Sunnyside, a 2016 acrylic on canvas named after a popular urban neighbourhood, is executed in a casual expressionist style that recalls voguish Zimbabwean painters Misheck Masamvu and Portia Zvavahera. Ruby Swinney’s ghostly renderings of youths in outdoor settings are currently highly sought after, largely due to the yet-to-open Zeitz MOCAA’s purchase of her entire degree show last year.

Rowan Smith and Xhanti Zwelendaba, 'Chamber of Mines', 2016, exhibition view; front: Untitled (Bale), 2016; back: Untitled (amabhokobhoko), 2016. Courtesy: the artists and Whatiftheworld Gallery, Cape Town

Rowan Smith and Xhanti Zwelendaba, ‘Chamber of Mines’
Whatiftheworld Gallery
7 May – 18 Jun

Rowan Smith is a well-regarded sculptor and part-time teacher; Xhanti Zwelendaba his student at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town. ‘Chamber of Mines’, named for a local organization of mine owners, is their collaborative attempt to visually assay big ideas like labour, capitalist production, insecurity and migrancy. Occupying two small rooms at the rear of Maja Marx’s impressive and concurrent showcase of cartographical-like abstract paintings, entitled ‘Glare’, the highlight of Smith and Zwelendaba’s diffuse presentation is Scrap for Africa (2016). This work abstractly recreates a scrap-yard merchant’s office and includes two vertical wounds in the gallery wall exposing a tangle of copper piping, a copper-plated measuring scale and window grille where traders in a real-world scenario would receive payment. A boxish metal sculpture made from eight compacted barbecues set on a wooden pallet charts a more sardonic streak in their tie-up.

Victor Ehikhamenor, The Cartographer of Memories, 2016, acrylic on canvas with rope, 1.9 x 1.6 m. Courtesy: the artist and Ebony, Cape Town

5 May – 2 Jul

Painterly abstraction arrived late in Cape Town, in the early postwar years, and not without widespread resistance. And unlike Johannesburg, which dived headlong into abstract expressionism, the tradition of abstract painting here has always shown a strong European influence. The attractive geometric forms produced by Hugh Byrne and Lars Fischedick, for instance, while directly inspired by their interest in architecture, also suggest a kinship with El Lissitzky and Mondrian, not Ellsworth Kelly. The centrepiece of this concise, country-hopping survey of abstract painting is a large untitled 2010 canvas by du jour abstractionist Zander Blom, which explicitly quotes Mondrian; it is also the oldest work on show. The all-male line-up includes Nigerian painter Victor Ehikhamenor, whose provocative un-stretched canvases are presented like sculptures. The cryptic markings on his work are inspired by his memory of village traditions in Udomi-Uwessan, where an untitled 2015 canvas by Senegalese painter Soly Cissé offers an abstract disquisition on urbanity.

A little extra: the Goodman Gallery is celebrating is fiftieth birthday with ‘New Revolutions’, a group show spanning its Cape Town and Johannesburg galleries (2 June – 6 July). The gallery, which represents William Kentridge, David Goldblatt and Alfredo Jaar, will use the exhibition to announce new gallery artists, including Shirin Neshat.

Sean O’Toole is a contributing editor of frieze, based in Cape Town, South Africa.