Visual artist Rhett Martyn’s exhibition 1:10 Modernist Plunder: The New Constructivists is not an easy body of work to view. This is because the works, which were recently on show for a brief 10 days at David Krut Projects, required you to do a little more than simply look.
First things first: Martyn is no huge fan of single truths. At a guided walkabout this 14 July, the artist led his audience through the tale that both inspired, and served as the conceptual scaffolding for Modernist Plunder. The story was that of prominent Mozambican architect and political activist João Mangual.
Mangual, an avid collector of Russian modernist sculpture of the ‘New Constructivists’ was found dead in Johannesburg in 1978. This being after his attempts to smuggle weapons into the country for uMkhonto weSizwe by hiding them in large, metal sculptures. Quite a story, right? Except it’s not true.
‘Everything I’ve just told you is a lie,’ he said to the small crowd present at the walkabout. ‘Elements of it are, of course, taken from true historical events, but this story itself is a work of fiction.’
Martyn’s works begin to take on new meaning after this realisation. The small metal sculptural works that were based off Mangual’s fictional smuggling efforts deserve a closer look, now, and you find that even these works are somewhat untrue. Constructed out of paper and later coated with a metallic paint, the works are as light as air when you pick them up.
Occupying the walls of the project space are Martyn’s signature horses. The prints, which Martyn began producing around three years ago, show how the artist has worked and reworked each piece, in extraordinary detail.
‘These are all actually test prints for the final works,’ explains Martyn. ‘I’ve worked over all of them and now they look nothing like the original prints, they’ve become their own works.’
So why base a body of work on untruths and fictional narratives?
‘After being immersed in a period of sheer ‘making’, I had lost track of what I was doing,’ he explains. ‘I wanted to re-track what I was doing by making use of a narrative…it helped me contextualise everything that I’d been doing.’
What happens, then, is that Martyn’s exhibition becomes a story, rather than a simple showcasing of conceptual works. Most excitingly, Martyn plans to extend the narrative in future, meaning we’ll be seeing more works in the same, story-based vein.
For more information about Rhett Martyn’s work visit davidkrutprojects.com.