Oh, so Irma! Exhibition brings Stern’s eccentricities to life

The house at number 21 Cecil Road in Rosebank, Cape Town, a museum and cornucopia of the late Irma Stern’s (now extremely valuable) art, has become an unconventional space of wonder and invention.

Colourful, eccentric and cluttered, the dining room in particular evokes her theatrical social spirit.

Legends of dinner parties hosted by her in the narrow room with its long heavy wood table live on. One can imagine the dramatics of the table talk.

As part of a topsy-turvy new exhibition titled Artworks: The Stern Exchange in the artist’s house, ceramicist Clementina van der Walt has assembled a tribute to those oddball Stern guests of yesteryear in her own maverick manner.

A flamboyant set of tableware is laid out as for an artsy banquet. Each plate and bowl has been hand-sculpted and fired in colours that bounce off the tones in the surrounding paintings. Very Irma.


Conversation between the old and new
Van der Walt’s partner in The Stern Exchange at the University of Cape Town’s Irma Stern Museum is photographer Lien Botha.

They say the idea is to stage an intervention in the museum, among its displays and with its heritage.

It makes for a delicious dialogue between artists of now and the legacy of a great one – one now so highly revered that her paintings sell for millions.

Botha, augmenting work from two of her previous portfolios, Moundou (2008) and Plant Press (2009), is showing eight new photographs of the museum’s staff. They pose playfully, even comically, interacting with the heavyweight, high-art environment of the interior.

Botha calls the essay “an idiosyncratic insertion into the raison d’être of this venerated building”.

These images are displayed in the upper rooms that act as the building’s temporary exhibition spaces. Here, stage-managed by the Ebony Design team, more of Van der Walt’s magnificent bowls, platters and vases are set on utilitarian tables that gently echo the rough “African” feel of the Stern furniture elsewhere.

A cheeky celebration
A series of her plates take up visual themes from the house’s collection of artefacts, object and images. They are both a tribute and somewhat tongue in cheek.

Typical Van der Walt, the pieces ask to be used convivially and to be thought and talked about. “Seeking the sacred in the ordinary” she calls their motivation.

“I have been fascinated by Irma’s perception of an ‘exotic Africa’ and how it manifests itself in her work. I share, too, her interest in African masks. And so, working to these themes, was a way on engaging with her consciousness as well as her aesthetic grasp.”

In a delightful photographic image by Botha, Van der Walt is shown lying down in the sitting room, possibly taking a nap on the carpet. Hardly a thing to do, one would imagine.

But this somewhat unsettling image pretty much sums up what is a vividly appealing collaboration that shows that all good art is interactive. Somehow the living artists puts a great deal of spirit back in the dead one.

* The exhibition ends October 25. For more information call 021?685?5686

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Melvyn Minnaar
Guest Author

Related stories

Athi-Patra Ruga’s new exhibition: The stain at the end of rainbow

Athi-Patra Ruga’s latest exhibition, ‘Interior/Exterior/ Dramatis Personae’, takes his characters on transformative journeys

Toich turns to the old masters

The artist, who draws on varied inspirations from baking to Irma Stern, is now studying in Florence

Expert finds SA painting valued at £1m in London kitchen

An art expert discovered the Irma Stern painting, once sold to help fund Nelson Mandela's legal defence, being used as a noticeboard in a London flat.

Stolen Pretoria Art Museum artworks found

Four of five paintings stolen from the Pretoria Art Museum have been found on a bench in a cemetery in Port Elizabeth, police said on Tuesday.

DA: Tshwane metro was warned about poor security at Pretoria Art Museum

The Democratic Alliance says the Tshwane metro had been repeatedly warned about the lack of adequate security measures at the Pretoria Art Museum.

Stern, Sekoto among stolen paintings

The five paintings stolen from the Pretoria Art Museum in Arcadia included an Irma Stern, worth R9-million, and a Gerard Sekoto, worth R7-million.
Advertising

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday