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Barend de Wet

Black, White & Everything In-Between




04. 06 .16 – 23. 07. 16

Cape Town

SMAC gallery is pleased to present Barend de Wet’s third solo exhibition with the gallery, Black, White & Everything In-Between. Accompanying the exhibition is a new publication, with an essay by Alexandra C.M. Ross.

The exhibition is on view from 06 June to 23 July 2016 in Cape Town



The unknowability and incomprehensibility of things. That is to say, the appreciation that we cannot grasp everything in its entirety. The fragmentary, multimedia, and in-process nature of his work lends itself to this approach. “Most of his works are in-process, most of the time.”


An excessive desire to work. Black, White and Everything In-Between provides a peephole into De Wet’s ‘work:life’ symbiosis. It’s hard not to get excited by the way his work moves between colour, scale, and form; sometimes with him taking the lead role, others the material.


The emotional appeal of his work is palpable. Affording the audience the opportunity to create their own meaning as they have their own minds and see things in their own unique way, and that is as right as what he intended that work to be. Even if it is completely opposite to his intention, it’s valid.


The materials and their imperfections indicate skill, whilst remaining humble, and the strength of the materials used either in tone or in form lead with a confident air; yet pull back to avoid being mistaken for arrogance. Historically, the relationship between artists and their hands has been longstanding, and De Wet retains a close relationship between the making of his work and its execution and finish. We, the viewer, encounter the result of the man in communion with the materials.


Although unmistakably complete and thoroughly thought through, the ages and stages of the work remain etched into its corpus. Steel, wool, or body, they all expose the lineage of that which we now gaze upon.


“I like to play. Out of play comes some works.” The rules of the game are as simple or as complex as required: to enter into the fold and to give yourself over to spending time in his world. A world in which there are no rules. Rules for engagement are honest, and “it is always political. It is all of it; it black, white and everything in-between.” [O]n entry into his work the game is evidently still in play, with the dice thrown and deft moves made by De Wet.


Vowing that “you should practice something 10 000 times to hone the skill and come closer to mastery.


Generous in spirit and in process his performance work in particular has committed to creating a space of generosity for the viewer.


His artworks are unutterable, meaning unable to be repeated or only occurring once. Conflating time into one plane of practice. The lack of perfection in his work defies cut-and-paste-factory creation.


Once again trying to define the man, the notion of the whimsical polymath springs to mind. De Wet’s work negotiates these binaries through the shades of grey. Rather than frustration in craving mastery of one medium or technique, fuelling his desire to grapple with another, instead it is a fight against boredom that pulls him to experiment and play with something new.

Adapted from Barend de Wet: An Attempted Lexicon and Taxonomy
By Alexandra C.M. Ross

Barend de Wet was born in Boksburg, Gauteng, in 1956 where he grew up and matriculated in 1973. After a brief period of studying architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand, De Wet changed direction to study Fine Art at Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town. His earliest exhibitions date back to group shows at The Market Gallery in Johannesburg in 1984, with his first solo exhibition, toying with art in 1985, presented at the Old Castle Brewery in Woodstock, Cape Town. He was also presented with the prestigious Zöllner prize that same year. In 1987, he presented Old, Regenerated and New Work at Gallery International in Cape Town, and in 1988 he was awarded the Volkskas Atelier Award by the South African Association of the Arts, Pretoria. He had one more solo exhibition, barend de/wet, at the US Art Gallery in Stellenbosch, before completing his studies in 1990. That same year, De Wet received top honours in the Volkskas National Art Prize, earning himself an eight month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. De Wet participated in various group exhibitions and staged unique performances and interventions; most notably, the 22nd Biennale de São Paulo in 1994, Brazil. In 1996, De Wet presented what has been described as his most iconic work at an empty storefront in Troyeville, Johannesburg, art disguised as pasta, where the artist performed the act of making fresh pasta which was hung out to dry on lines spanning an otherwise empty space.

De Wet resigned from the art world with the announcement of the birth of his son in 1996, but in 1998, he established the Museum of Temporary Art at his hotel, The Grand, in Observatory, Cape Town. Here he continued his obdurate battle against the intellectualisms of art. Many significant South African and international artists completed ‘residencies’ at the ‘museum’.

De Wet joined SMAC Gallery in 2009, and participated in important exhibitions such as Dada South? Exploring Dada Legacies in South African Art: 1960 to the Present, co-curated by Kathryn Smith and Roger van Wyk at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town in 2009; Twenty: South African Sculpture of the Last Two Decades at the Nirox Sculpture Park, Johannesburg, in 2010; The Rainbow Nation: Hedendaagse Beeldhouwkunst uit Zuid-Afrika at the Museum Beelden aan Zee, Den Haag, Netherlands, in 2012 and After The Rainbow Nation at the NIROX Sculpture Park, Johannesburg, in 2013.

Since joining SMAC, De Wet has presented two solo shows. The first, GREEN, was exhibited in Stellenbosch in 2010 and was accompanied by a monograph about the artist, authored by Kathryn Smith. His second solo exhibition, MAXIMALISM, was presented in 2012 in Cape Town. De Wet was the invited artist for the inaugural Cape Town Art Fair in 2013 where he presented a solo exhibition titled A Tangled Skein, curated by Andrew Lamprecht. He performed in Experimental Evening – Notes in Thread and was included in Thinking, Feeling, Head, Heart, curated by Marilyn Martin, both at the New Church Museum in Cape Town in 2014. De Wet’s latest projects include a video montage titled Projected Identities, which was first featured in MINE (Part III), an itinerant exhibition of South African video and performance art, which was shown in Bordeaux, France in 2013. In 2015, Projected Identities was presented at the TATE Modern in London as part of The Film Will Always Be You – South African Artists on Screen, co-curated by Zoe Whitley, followed by a screening at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town.

Black, White & Everything In-Between is Barend De Wet’s third solo exhibition with SMAC Gallery. The artist currently lives and works in Cape Town.

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