Mela and I paid a visit to the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch yesterday. It isn’t a museum at all but an art gallery, currently hosting two main exhibitions; sculpture collections by Rodin and Stellenbosch’s own Dylan Lewis.
The first hall we passed through contains the work of several South African artists; painters like Irma Stern, Jean Welz and Maggie Laubser; and the sculptor Anton van Wouw.
I was particularly attracted to the portraiture of Laubser and Welz while two of Irma Stern’s works stood out, possibly because they differ greatly from her others in technique or medium. I was fascinated by the incredible detail in van Wouw’s bronzes and amazed at their small size. I had become so used to seeing large outdoor statues and sculptures that it hadn’t occurred to me how small and delicate many sculptures were.
From this hall one moves through a short corridor to the next hall. This corridor contains several large works by local artists. Some of these are quite abstract but the one that struck me most and is perhaps my favourite of all the works I saw yesterday, is a huge, almost photorealistic work done in pastel on paper. The artist is Keith Dietrich and the piece, titled Elliot Malekethu with bicycle, bucket and bananas is a wonderfully detailed portrait of an albino African man in the uniform of a Zionist Christian Church member.
Next up was the Rodin exhibition that has an entire hall dedicated to it and consists of his sculptures, texts on the wall painting his life history, some of his sketches, an audio-visual presentation playing on a large screen and three wonderful old photographs of the man himself. As a photographer these possible held more appeal for me than the sculpture’s themselves.
I found the smooth curves of the sculptures fascinating and had a strong desire to reach out and run my hands over them, but I didn’t think that the gallery staff would take kindly to this. I was again struck by the small size of the works; The Thinker is only 37.7cm tall while I had always thought it to be near life-sized, from photographs I had seen. One of the most striking aspects of this exhibit was not the works themselves but the shadows they cast on the floor and walls. At this point I had to disregard the no photography rule and take a photograph of the shadow cast by the work Pas de Deux.
The final exhibit we saw was the Dylan Lewis one and this differs markedly from the sculpture we had seen before. The works are mostly larger, life-sized in many cases and have a rougher finish that evokes no desire to touch the pieces. Some of the works are rather abstract and appealed to me less than those whose subject is clearly recognisable. The works, or perhaps single collective work, that appealed to me most are a number of leopard heads held up at various heights by posts. Here again I was overcome by the compulsion to make photographs and sneaked a shot of one of these heads.
I should point out that while a leaflet we were given in the car park indicates that photography is not allowed, I had telephoned some weeks ago and been told that as long as they were for myself I was welcome to take photographs; I had simply not confirmed this with the staff on the day.