Critics’ Picks

View of “Wim Botha,” 2008.


Wim Botha

Jägerstrasse 5
November 28–January 10

Wim Botha’s work grapples with historical and cultural attitudes toward faith and mortality. In this exhibition, he presents installations suspended from the ceiling, drawings on white paper, sculptural busts crafted from carved leather-bound books, and large prints of skeletons. The South African artist’s installations are composed of seemingly separate parts that are brought together into a strikingly cohesive signature aesthetic through his limited black, white, and red palette, austere lines, and careful craftsmanship. His work also employs scholarly references to Calvinist South African architecture and furniture. This effect is highlighted in Vanitas Toilette, 2008, a smooth black wooden sculpture resembling both a bathtub and a coffin that hangs by wires from the ceiling. Its sleek lines and shiny surface make it appealing as an object of design, although its shape and connotations are unnerving. The strongest works in this show are beautifully rendered and naturalistic graphite drawings of animal skulls and human skeletons, as well as an oil painting of a sad-eyed Boer goat, native to South Africa, which is a self-portrait of the artist. Scarred by a slight tear, the canvas resembles a found nineteenth-century painting. That Botha is the artist adds further evidence of his impressive and flexible talent. The mournful expression in the animal’s eyes is more gripping than the hard and heavy imagery elsewhere in the gallery.