Sean O’Toole

  • Tilo Steireif, untiled, 2012–13, watercolor and ink on paper. From the series “The Robber,” 2012–13.
    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.”

  • Simphiwe Ndzube, To Dream Without Land to Plough, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.
    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

  • Walter Battiss, 5am Waking Dream, 1976, watercolor and gouache on paper, 14 x 20".
    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

  • Banele Khoza, Our Bed, 2016, watercolor on paper, bed. Installation view.
    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

  • View of “Kendall Buster: Dis-assembling Utopias,” 2016.
    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

  • Mary Sibande, The Mechanism, 2016, mild steel and paint, 12 1/2' x 8' x 4'.
    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

  • Zander Blom, Modern Painting: Piet Mondrian (detail), 2015–16, 106 framed drawings, dimensions variable.
    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

  • Sue Williamson, Fluctuat Nec Mergitur: The Boat Will Not Sink, Paris, 2016, digital photograph, dimensions variable.
    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

  • James Webb, Untitled (With the Sound of Its Own Making), 2016, multichannel audio, loudspeakers, 10 x 16 x 3'.
    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

  • View of “Willem Boshoff: Reap the Whirlwind,” 2015–16.
    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

  • Lakin Ogunbanwo, Uncover, 2015, archival ink-jet print, 47 x 31".
    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

  • David Goldblatt, The dethroning of Cecil John Rhodes, after the throwing of human faeces on the statue and the agreement of the University to the demands of students for its removal. The University of Cape Town, 9 April 2015, 2015, silver gelatin print, 39 x 49".
    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