Over the past decade, sculpture has shed its status as painting’s poor relation. Its run of eclipsing auction results (starting with Alberto Giacometti’s famous ‘L’Homme qui marche I’ sculpture that was sold at Sotheby’s in 2010 for $104.3 million – breaking the auction record for the highest price ever paid for an artwork) shows no sign of slowing and is increasingly matched by a surging public appetite.
This, combined with glaring practical considerations, has led to a revolutionary shift in the gallery-centred art world and the proliferation of outdoor exhibition venues. ‘People’s concept of art has expanded, and much of contemporary art is configured in 3-D,’ says Simon Stock, senior international specialist at Sotheby’s in London. ‘It needs space.’
Boschendal wine estate’s new sculpture garden is very much in line with this way of thinking and, under the guidance and management of The Boutique Gallery’s William Vaesen, great lengths have been taken to create a domain that demands no more attention than visitors are willing to give it while simultaneously inviting anyone with an interest in art to embark on a journey of discovery.
‘When conceptualising the exhibition space, we were incredibly mindful of the range of people who visit Boschendal, and that the sculptures on show will communicate with older people as well as small children,’ William says. ‘Then, sensitivities towards context and the role of art in our current society means that we knew we had to be highly selective about curators.’
And such are the credentials of its inaugural exhibition’s curator Gordon Froud – an internationally respected contemporary artist, curator and senior visual art lecturer at the University of Johannesburg – that the garden is already seen as a dynamic, world-class platform for noteworthy South African artists. Creating something family-friendly was the only proviso – apart from this, Froud had carte blanche.
‘The greatest challenge was to compete with Boschendal’s beautiful surroundings, buildings and gardens in a way that the sculptures both blend in and stand out and encourage exploration, leading guests to lesser-visited parts of the estate,’ says Froud.
‘I used the spaces to determine the types of works and artists to feature. I didn’t want to replicate what is already on offer at other sculpture gardens, and didn’t want to focus only on well-established and widely known artists. I needed to strike a balance between two main aims: the aim to present an interesting and diverse exhibition that reveals the depth of talent in South African contemporary sculpture, and the aim to include a variety of work so as to provide something for everyone – such as the child-orientated playful dogs by Wilma Cruise, Marieke Prinsloo-Rowe’s figurative works with their classical appeal and more abstract, esoteric pieces, like Strijdom van der Merwe’s “Trilogy”.’
This is where the garden’s enormous success is most visible. From busy children absorbed in make-believe games involving Cruise’s dogs and a group of foreign students debating Graeme Williams’ ‘Making Cable-Theft Fun’ on the space’s periphery to a frail elderly lady making her way to the rose garden after contemplating Uwe Pfaff’s ‘Surprise Development’, it is the visitors’ powerfully clear responses to the works on display that really speak volumes.