Sean O’Toole

  • 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,

  • picks April 02, 2015

    Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

    Published in 2013 and styled after Bertolt Brecht’s personal bible, which he annotated and illustrated with photographs, Holy Bible is Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s tenth publication together. While physically resembling the King James Version, two divergent elements set it apart from the Church of England’s translation of this Christian text. For one, various passages have been underlined in red, and the book is also collaged with cryptic photos, all drawn from the London-based Archive of Modern Conflict, depicting dancing, sex, conflicts, murder, suicide, magic tricks, Nazi propaganda,

  • picks February 05, 2015

    Igshaan Adams

    Last year Igshaan Adams showed a recording of his performance Please Remember II, 2013, in which the artist lies prone on a green burial cloth while his father performs an Islamic funeral ritual, at the Paul Klee Center’s annual Summer Academy in Bern, Switzerland. Appearing again in this new exhibition, titled “Parda,” after the veil prescribed by Sharia law for women, the green cloth printed with yellow Koranic verses, Plate 7, 2014, is now embroidered with one of psychotherapist Hermann Rorschach’s psycho-diagnostic inkblots, which Adams researched before going to Bern. Part of his 2014 “

  • picks January 20, 2015

    “Thinking, Feeling, Head, Heart”

    The history of painterly abstraction in South Africa remains atomized and fragmentary in part because of lingering animosities about its bland rehearsal of an imported style and, decisively perhaps, its inability to visualize the struggle against apartheid, which prompted curators and publishers to bypass the abstract in favor of social-realist and agitprop work. This exhibition, rather than recapitulating history, offers a selective survey of this overlooked genre and draws predominantly from the holdings of the New Church Museum. Guest curator Marilyn Martin named this show after a billowing