art, Garden

the outdoor sculpture show at the saxon hotel

Christoph Hoffmann, Elsa Young



Adding an intriguing dimension to the pool, Anton Smit’s ‘Faith’ sculpture faces the garden of the Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa in Sandhurst, Joburg. Mark Swart’s ‘Bird’ in painted mild steel adds a shot of blue, with Johan van Heerden’s ‘Airport Curve’ in stainless steel displayed on the lawn.

Sheltered from the city frenzy along a tree-lined Sandhurst street, the Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa has built a reputation for discreet, high-end service and refined dining. Add to that the subtle taupe-toned luxe of the interiors and the sprawling verdant garden and you’ve got an utterly serene urban retreat.

Almost three decades ago landscape designer Patrick Watson was commissioned by Saxon’s owner Douw Steyn to create a quietly spectacular garden for what was then Steyn’s private residence. ‘We had a 12-acre site to work with and envisioned something simple, stylised and slightly glamorous,’ says Patrick. ‘Douw enjoys green, park-like spaces and he doesn’t care much for flowers, so we kept the classical trees like jacarandas and oaks, adding indigenous elements like combretums and wild figs from KwaZulu-Natal. The garden has evolved and expanded with the hotel, but it’s always conveyed a sense of place. There’s a flavour of Africa and a sense of being in a suburb, but neither is obvious nor overt.’

An established Ficus microcarpa tree offsets Anton Smit’s ‘Queen of Kungwini’ resin sculpture.
Anton Smit’s ‘Monument for the Common People'.

Against this canvas of pristine lawns and tailored trees, fine art consultants Ian Coetser and Janet Blair of MasterArt saw an opportunity to display a collection of contemporary South African works. ‘Prior to this project we were fortunate to commission and curate a permanent art collection for the Saxon Villa interiors,’ explains Ian. ‘The brief then expanded to introduce an outdoor sculpture collection as part of an ongoing, saleable art platform.’

As collections go, this beautifully curated ensemble appears entirely at ease in its surroundings, despite, as Ian puts it, being ‘quite a mixed bag’. ‘We wanted to give people a reason to explore the garden, to draw them outdoors and enhance the Saxon experience. To keep it interesting we’ve combined a broad mix of genres and techniques, with materials ranging from timber and granite to bronze and stainless steel. Of course “small” doesn’t work in a garden of this scale, and the real challenge lay in positioning each piece so that they work together cohesively.’

First up there’s Mark Swart’s brightly coloured mild steel pieces, his ‘Red Knot’ clashing beautifully with a hedge of purple bougainvillea. Anton Smit’s resin figure ‘Faith’ appears to hover effortlessly on the swimming pool’s surface, while Amalie von Maltitz’ ‘Column’ series is a tour de force in ceramic stoneware. ‘For this inaugural show we definitely wanted to include some names from the old guard,’ explains Ian, ‘movers and shakers from the 1960s and 1970s who were pioneers of abstract art in SA.’ Johan van Heerden is one such artist, and his flawlessly executed, curved stainless steel pieces flash and glint in the sunlight.

With 60 different pieces to deal with, one of MasterArt’s toughest tasks was the installation process. ‘Anton Smit, for instance, arrived with three truckloads and 10 workers and we had to close off the driveway for two days!’ says Ian. Janet and Ian worked closely with the Saxon team, and are quick to credit Mathias Saleborn and Candice Turner for their collaborative input. ‘Mathias truly understood that art is a valuable adjunct to the Saxon brand, and he made sure that the entire project ran as seamlessly as possible.’

Ultimately, though, the heart of this interactive spectacle remains its serene location. ‘This was an incredible backdrop to work with,’ says Ian, ‘and, although introducing some bright colour to the space was a risk, we just knew that it would work beautifully. On the first day we installed three sculptures and guests began streaming into the garden. Children loved it, and even the hadedas took an interest. As pieces are sold, so we’ll replace them with new artworks in different styles. It’s a wonderful incentive for guests to return here.’

The Saxon Art Affair is open to all in-house guests and diners at Saxon restaurants. For more information visit saxon.co.za.

Amalie von Maltitz’ ‘Column III’.
Sunlit Combretum erythrophyllum trees, masses of liriope ground cover and artfully placed rocks in a secluded part of the garden designed by Patrick Watson.
Azwimpheleli Magoro’s ‘Forest Figure I’ in indigenous timber.
Mark Swart’s ‘Red Knot’ in painted mild steel adds bold colour to the predominantly green space.