Sean O’Toole

  • picks February 15, 2017

    “Women’s Work”

    In a 2009 performance titled Knitwit, maverick artist Barend de Wet, sporting a churchly suit and calling himself the “Knitting Bull,” loudly—like a lay preacher—implored his audience to “Knit!” In light of the sixty-four mostly contemporary works by thirty-three artists and collectives assembled for this concise survey of weaving, knitting, sewing, lace making, tapestry, beading, and embroidery practices, his entreaty was also a declaration of fact. De Wet is represented in this exhibition by Crochet (Shroud), 2013, a candy-colored knitted garment draped over a standing figure. It appears next

  • picks February 14, 2017

    Jody Paulsen

    Jody Paulsen did not have art historian Robert Pincus-Witten in mind when, in a summary of his personal aesthetic credo, he told an interviewer in 2015: “Right now, artistically, I’m in a maximalist phase. I don’t like any blank spaces.” If anything, Paulsen was describing his generous approach to composition in his felt collages, pieces featuring pithy text slogans referencing his mixed-race queer identity that, as finished work, operate as soft sculpture and exuberant public confessionals. His propensity toward visual surplus is also a hallmark of this show: Here, Paulsen manages to fit nearly

  • “Africans in America”

    South African artists, dealers, and scholars often mourn the demise of the Johannesburg Biennale, a short-lived experiment in post-apartheid city branding and global outreach that ran for just two editions, in 1995 and 1997, invoking its legacy in interviews, essays, and tribute exhibitions. In 2010, the Goodman Gallery launched In Context, an occasional series of citywide exhibitions and events that aimed to address the void left by the defunct biennial—it is less a successor than an ambitious stopgap until something new emerges. To cocurate the second edition with her, Goodman Gallery

  • picks December 08, 2016

    Tilo Steireif

    In 2012, Tilo Steireif, a Swiss artist whose research-based practice has favored photography and installation, began work on a suite of aquarelle and ink cartoons inspired by German-speaking Swiss writer Robert Walser’s posthumously published novel, The Robber. The labor posed two challenges: It was Steireif’s first foray into watercolor, and The Robber—a digressive novel with a weak plot first published in German in 1972 and in English in 2000—doesn’t easily lend itself to visual exegesis in the way that the Book of Genesis did for Robert Crumb. Walser’s novel begins briskly: “Edith loves him.”

  • picks November 07, 2016

    Simphiwe Ndzube

    Cape Town–based sculptor Simphiwe Ndzube’s debut solo exhibition, “Becoming,” bookends a year of sustained buzz around the artist’s accumulative sculptural installations. In late 2015, he clinched the prestigious Michaelis Prize at the University of Cape Town for his undergraduate body of work composed of found materials—notably fabrics and cast-off fashions. Centrally occupied with the human figure, his standout piece, Raft, 2015, presents a densely packed assembly of objects that includes tenuous figural elements; it references both the Mediterranean migrant crisis and plight of Cape Town’s

  • picks August 15, 2016

    Walter Battiss

    In 1979, three years before his death at age seventy-six, Walter Battiss published a monograph in which he is described as a “paunchy painter-poet,” “international artist,” “traveller,” and “philosopher.” It is easy to miss this volume, which is part of a display of more than seven hundred of his drawings, paintings, prints, books, and related ephemera, all drawn from the Jack M. Ginsberg Collection. Ginsberg is well-known in South Africa for his support of artists’ books, and his collection evidences his bias toward works on paper more generally, notably Battiss’s vivid and abstractly figurative

  • picks August 08, 2016

    Banele Khoza

    Banele Khoza was a preteen living in Swaziland when Marlene Dumas, a South African based in Amsterdam, painted Moshekwa, 2006, a bruise-colored expressionist study of artist Moshekwa Langa. Khoza saw the portrait in 2008, the same year he moved to South Africa, and credits it with inspiring him to be a painter. His journey to reaching this goal was indirect: After completing high school he studied fashion, immediately hated it, and a year later enrolled in a fine-art degree. “Temporary Feelings,” an emotional showcase of recent paintings and works on paper that record his search for love and

  • picks July 02, 2016

    Kendall Buster

    In her 2008 book-length essay Architecture of the Off-Modern, Svetlana Boym remarks on the “paradoxical ruinophilia” that underlies artistic projects using the “remainders of history.” This is a useful point of entry into American sculptor Kendall Buster’s “Dis-assembling Utopias,” her first solo exhibition at the gallery. Examining architectural idealism, her show is dominated by a large model of cardboard and paper, Model City (Constraint), 2014–, which inventories—and parodies—architectural characteristics, particularly those associated with International Style modernism. Installed in the

  • picks June 13, 2016

    “A Place in Time”

    Monuments to white power and dominion have been a focal point of the culture wars gripping South Africa, prompting heated discussions about their survival. Yet Helen Pheby, the senior curator at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, doesn’t directly engage this ongoing volatility in “A Place in Time,” her guest showcase of fifty-two mostly new outdoor works by thirty-seven artists from Germany, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Switzerland, and the UK at this sculpture park northwest of Johannesburg. Inspired by the area’s fossil-rich landscapes, her survey of contemporary sculpture instead places these

  • picks April 01, 2016

    Zander Blom

    Iconoclasm is all the rage in Cape Town. A week after Zander Blom opened his exhibition “New Paintings,” which includes twenty-one oils featuring marbled paint treatments and blocks of primary colors, eighty-eight shape experiments in ink on paper, and 106 cartoonish interventions on a sundered book by Piet Mondrian, a group of transgender activists at the University of Cape Town stormed an exhibition at the Centre for African Studies Gallery and vandalized works (including one by David Goldblatt) portraying aspects of the yearlong student demonstrations. A month earlier, students protesting

  • picks February 17, 2016

    Sue Williamson

    In 2009, South African artist Sue Williamson convened a workshop during the Tenth Havana Biennial on what it means to live in the Cuban capital. Now encompassing thirteen total regions, “Other Voices, Other Cities,” 2009–, is a series wherein Williamson produces group photographs of workshop participants holding letters spelling out phrases expressive of their collective beliefs. In Havana, the phrase read, “The blockade is also in the mind,” and in 2009 in Johannesburg, “Who is Johannes?” The latter work appears in this show and is also the cover image of her new monograph. She held another

  • picks February 16, 2016

    James Webb

    Although principally a sonic experience, James Webb’s exhibition “Ecstatic Interference” affirms the importance of physical objects in the public staging of his sound pieces. Composed of three discrete sound installations, the exhibition features a sixteen-foot-wide, ten-foot tall stack of fifteen speakers that occupies the first room; two eight-inch-wide speakers hung on facing walls of the two adjoining display areas; and a circular hyperdirectional wall speaker measuring more than three feet in diameter suspended on a wall in the rear exhibition space. All of these industrial objects are

  • picks January 20, 2016

    Willem Boshoff

    A burnt-orange brick wall is the centerpiece of Willem Boshoff’s “Reap the Whirlwind,” an at times exegetical display of fourteen new assemblage works and sculptures that riff on this sixty-four-year-old artist’s career-long obsession with words as textural forms and linguistic ciphers. Measuring nearly fifty feet long by ten feet high, Word Woes, 2015, spans the entire length of one gallery wall and is composed of a grid of handmade bricks produced by rural artisans using Richmond clay and the services of a blindfolded donkey whose orbits powered their primitive mixing drum—a technique described

  • picks December 31, 2015

    Lakin Ogunbanwo

    The subject of Nigerian photographer Lakin Ogunbanwo’s debut South African solo exhibition, “Are We Good Enough,” is the brightly colored and sometimes intricately embroidered headwear favored by his male countrymen. Of his ten head-and-shoulder portraits here, nine show a shirtless model from the back. The photographer’s sitter alternates between modeling the snug, rounded caps associated with Igbo and Hausa ethnic groups and the floppy aso-oke fabric hats worn by Yoruba men. A portrait of a brimless red cap typically worn by Igbo men is titled Untitled (Red Hat) (all works 2015), while one

  • picks November 24, 2015

    David Goldblatt

    The earliest photo in David Goldblatt’s career-spanning survey, “The Pursuit of Values,” is a black-and-white portrait of a white middle-aged couple seated on a park bench, smoking. Couple in the Library Gardens, Johannesburg, 1948, was taken the same year that Afrikaner nationalists won the parliamentary ballot in a whites-only South African election and inaugurated a cynical program of legislated racial division. The most recent photo here is also a study in black and white and has a lengthy descriptive title. Taken on April 9 this year, it shows a mixed-race group of students at the University

  • picks November 20, 2015

    Hollis Frampton

    This exhibition of Hollis Frampton’s last major series of photographs, “ADSVMVS ABSVMVS,” 1982, an austere portfolio of fourteen color pictures of desiccated animal and plant remains, represents a belated debut of sorts for the artist. Frampton, a creative polymath whose achievements in film tend to overshadow his writing and photography, has never been the subject of a solo exhibition in New York. “I felt he was someone who was in but uniquely apart from the working art world,” wrote his friend Michael Snow in 1984, shortly after Frampton’s death. Snow, who famously narrated Frampton’s

  • picks November 03, 2015

    Serge Alain Nitegeka

    The foundations for abstract painting and sculpture in South Africa were laid in the prosperous postwar years, when local artists who trained in Europe jettisoned staid, realist idioms. Despite the emphasis often placed on Johannesburg-based artist Serge Alain Nitegeka’s status as a refugee from Burundi and on how his adolescent passage to South Africa via Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya has shaped his practice, the twenty hard-edge paintings on wood panels and six boxy timber sculptures in his exhibition “Black Passage” are also typical of the European-style abstraction that

  • picks October 23, 2015

    Jodi Bieber

    There are nearly a hundred photographs stemming from eight projects in South African photographer Jodi Bieber’s midcareer survey, “Between Darkness and Light,” many of them portraits. They include gritty documentary photographs in black and white of young children with plastic guns or adolescents with real ones from the roaming study of marginality in her homeland, Between Dogs and Wolves: Growing Up with South Africa, which includes photographs from 1994 to 2004. The portraits of gun-toting youths recall Mary Ellen Mark’s documentary work, an affinity that’s reiterated in Bieber’s series “Las

  • picks August 25, 2015

    Kemang wa Lehulere

    Kemang wa Lehulere’s latest show is composed of a trio of installations, each devoted to a pioneering black South African modernist. The most ambitious work details Lehulere’s discovery that his aunt, in her youth, had visited expressionist painter Gladys Mgudlandlu’s home and found its walls covered with evocative murals. Lehulere, whose practice includes archaeological digging performances and site-specific chalk wall drawings with a durational lifespan, decided to uncover these murals, which, it turned out, are hidden beneath seven coats of domestic paint and two layers of plaster. The story

  • picks August 24, 2015

    Graeme Williams

    Johannesburg, a city founded on a gold rush in 1886, has prompted a great deal of handwringing amongst writers about its place in the world, and indeed Africa, since the fall of apartheid. By contrast, photographers, especially city residents like Graeme Williams, have been less grandiloquent, accepting its roughshod visual character and unstable temperament as a kind of truth. His earlier black-and-white work combined the feral tradition of Gary Winogrand’s street photography with the more impressionistic urban documentary of David Goldblatt, also a Johannesburg resident and Williams’s mentor,