Bronze, Steel, Stone: Showcase of sculptures has been long time coming

Visitors to the Everard Read's Bronze, Steel, Stone exhibition wander about the Circa gallery. Pauline Gutter's striking red

Visitors to the Everard Read’s Bronze, Steel, Stone exhibition wander about the Circa gallery. Pauline Gutter’s striking red “Purgatorium” is in the foreground. Picture: EVERARD READ GALLERY

IT IS impossible to do justice to the Everard Read Johannesburg’s sculpture exhibition. The gallery’s showcase of more than 60 artists’ work is wide-ranging and eclectic. It has also been a long time coming.

“It goes back to about 2000. We’d always been active in sculpture,” says gallery owner Mark Read. “Our sales used to be about 20% sculpture, 80% painting. This year we sold 80% sculpture.” That’s not an exact amount but he felt this change in tastes required a sculpture-only exhibition.

It has been a busy year for Read. With his Cape Town co-owner Charles Shields — the gallery there is showing Resurrection (Der Brennende Wald), the first solo presentation by Matthew Hindley — and London gallerist John Martin he has opened Circa Gallery London. Well, not entirely. “We’ve inched the door open, but our programme of events starts in March,” says Read. “There are builders in still, and websites are going up, but we are open to anyone who wants to come in for a cup of tea.”

Circa is Everard Read’s contemporary show space, and the Bronze, Steel, Stone exhibition in Johannesburg spreads over both galleries, with some striking pieces in the smaller Circa gallery, including some from Conrad Botes, Neels Coetzee, Michael Macgarry, Marcus Neustetter and Deborah Bell.

Read says the idea with Everard Read London, on the swanky Fulham Road, is to provide a new market to, especially, South African artists. “It won’t be entirely South African, it will be 50% southern African and 50% art from emergent nations — Cuba, Argentina. It will definitely be contemporary.”

While SA’s more established galleries have attended art fairs abroad, and many South African artists have exhibited in countries across the globe, Read hopes that the London gallery will provide a permanent and reliable marketplace to the Everard Read’s artists. He is holding the programme for the March launch close to his chest, but says it will be a two-month group show that will “evolve as we go along (and be) a teaser in our first two years of activity”. Those two years are already planned.

“It should be fun, although it’s quite scary at £22 to the rand. That really concentrates the mind.”

Read says he had for years wanted to put on a big exhibition of South African sculpture. “Two years ago I thought I should stop thinking about it and just do it.”

What is on show is an eclectic overview of South African sculpture, which Read believes is undergoing a boom. “There’s definitely a great deal of good sculpture in SA. Before SA has too few, second-rate foundries. Now we have wonderful ones, and they are not as expensive as foundries offshore.”

Read was reluctant to pick out any of the pieces as favourites. The work ranges from Walter Oltman’s spiky, steel Larva, reminiscent of one of those furry brown caterpillars or a sinuous sea creature, through Nic Bladen’s “lost wax” castings of African plants, to Kevin Atkinson’s Abstract IV — a sort of painting, pigment on steel. “It’s steel, so that’s how I got it in,” says Read.

A number of pieces deal with the SA’s political economy, including Michelle Mathison’s Breaking Ground (steel and enamel), a large, striking swoop of pick axes arcing towards the floor in a motion that mimics that of the swing of a labourer’s arm. Mining and the backbones that have built SA’s economy are called to mind.

The same can be said of Willem Boshoff’s Cheap Labour — seven shovels, rusted and covered in a substance that emulates mud. Each is emblazoned with an official-looking abbreviation: Mon, Tues and so on through the days of the week. In the same room Neels Coetzee’s Unit IV calls similar images to mind — the bent back, the straining shoulder blade.

“It was difficult to thematically put pieces together. It taxed our resources, but I think it’s a memorable show that people will love,” says Read.

Bronze, Steel, Stone is on at Everard Read, 6 Jellicoe Ave, Johannesburg until January 16.