The recent placement of an iconic sculpture by Belgain-South African artist Herman van Nazareth outside the Nasionale Pers/Media 24 building on the foreshore at the bottom of Adderley Street is a significant step towards the creation of a new urban identity for Cape Town.
The monumental bronze sculpture entitled “Exuberance/Uitbindigheid” stands more than seven metres tall and features two celebratory figures in a symbiotic expression of energetic celebration. The work itself is political and dates back to the late 1960s, when the artist was directly addressing and challenging Nationalist policies. The choice of a rich black patina is symbolic in representing African brotherhood, the struggle for freedom and the inevitability of victory which beckoned for the oppressed masses in South Africa and across the continent. Today, in a new context the timelessness and universality of the work resonates, adding vibrancy and energy to the once sterile and vacuous inner city.
The sculpture was initially destined for the new Cape Town Stadium in Green Point, but due to a series of bureaucratic and other complications, the expensive artwork was temporarily homeless. The timely and visionary intervention of Nasionale Pers/Media 24 has ensured that it now has a more appropriate and hopefully permanent home.
Herman van Nazareth has enjoyed a highly successful international career. He has always remained loyal to South Africa, where he studied in the sixties and started his career. Van Nazareth has recently enjoyed renewed attention in South Africa. A number of important works have been included in a major 2010 exhibition of South African sculpture entitled “Twenty: Two Decades of South African Sculpture”, at the impressive Nirox Sculpture Park set in the majestic Cradle of Humankind, Magaliesberg, Gauteng. His work is also included in the controversial historical exhibition currently on show at the Iziko National Gallery (From Pierneef to the Gugulective: South African Art 1910-2010). Next year, the SMAC Art Gallery will present a second retrospective exhibition of the artist in this country, to coincide with his 75th birthday.
Cape Town has seen a gradual transformation and rejuvenation in recent years, culminating in a surge of activity of both public and private investment ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Besides infrastructure, construction and landscaping, public sculpture has played a major role to invigorate and transfigure the character of the city.
Johannesburg has always been described as the more vibrant city, with a uniquely African pulse which is mirrored in the architecture and urban fibre of our wealthiest city. Public sculpture and art-orientated interventions in recent years have come to represent the evolving creative energy which sets Joburg apart. Recent examples include the impressive “Firewalker” by William Kentridge and Gerard Marx as one crosses the Nelson Mandela Bridge into downtown Johannesburg, preceded by Clive van De Bergh’s large concrete sculpture of an Eland, outside the Wits Art School in Braamfontein. These works lead the way to the rapidly transforming inner city art prescient of Newton and further east to courageous new initiatives such as the Arts on Main project.
The establishment of the Cape Town International Convention Centre coincided with the large scale regeneration of the once flourishing Foreshore. Gradually new modern structures have been established and existing buildings have been refurbished. The Cape Town Station project and the upgrade of the Grand Parade complete this process and marks the beginning of a new era for the city. Public art and sculpture are integral to this process. The life-like sculptures of recognizable regular Capetonians going about their daily routine by Egon Tania at the newly revamped Pier Place Square blend into the environment as if they always existed. Another recent addition to the urban landscape is a tall red curved figure by Gavin Younge entitled “Olduvai”, outside the new Convention Tower Building. Recognising the opportunity to create an enduring statement and a landmark to the new Cape Town, Nasionale Pers/Media 24 facilitated the visionary placement of this timeless sculpture by Herman van Nazareth. The test of a great public artwork is whether it can make a relevant and powerful statement to its citizens and visitors alike, without dominating or imposing itself. Van Nazareth’s work feels contemporary and historic at the same time, it reminds of painful history but inspires an optimistic future. It feels as though it has always been there and hopefully it always will.
“Exuberance/Uitbindigheid” was unveiled on Friday 25 June. Mr Ton Vosloo, chairman of Nasionale Pers/Media24 delivered the opening address.