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Review: No Man’s Art

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No Man's Art Cape TownA decidedly young crowd was evident at the opening of No Man’s Art Gallery in its ‘secret’ location at the Rockwell in Greenpoint last night. The young and trendy interacted with the art and sprawled out into Prestwich Street late into the night.

Judging by the array of artists, No Man’s Art Gallery founder and curator, Emmelie Koster, certainly has her finger on the pulse of the local art scene. At just 27 years old Koster has been operating this itinerant gallery for many years, and she knows how to host an opening with a fresh, exciting atmosphere – something sadly lacking at many openings at more established galleries in Cape Town.

Deliberately designed as a pop up gallery, No Man’s Art has operated as far afield as Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Shanghai. Koster makes a point to live in each city for three months beforehand in order to track down the local young talent and suss out themes that occur in the local art scene so that she can curate the exhibition accordingly.

Cape Town is her seventh destination and has proven to have its ups and downs. Our city operates at a slower pace than other destinations, says Koster, and therefore was perhaps not best suited to her three month set up process. And she describes the effect of what she terms the “beach city vibe” of the Mother City as both stressful and relaxing. South African artsits, Koster believes, are open and engaging in comparison to her encounters in China, where artists are not open to conversing about politics… or even art.

The pop up gallery offers a fantastic opportunity for young artists, whose work will be exhibited in future pop up galleries in other destinations. Danish artist Kamil Franko is testament to the value of the international exposure that the No Man’s Art concept offers. Having curated with Koster for her pop up exhibition in Copenhagen, Franko had his sell-out exhibitions – one solo, one dual – followed by a print release in New York.  Franko’s painting ‘Time’ can be seen in the Cape Town exhibition – a reflection on his family tree, with the component of time reflected in the artist’s ritual of meditating in front of the canvas every day before applying the paint.

The seven talented South African artists selected to exhibit include Nicolene van der Walt, who works with issues involving consumption. Using casts of stillborn piglets the artist represents the only waste product of the otherwise processed and reprocessed use of the pig into a consumer product. Van der Walt’s soap casts of piglets made from pig fat sets up a wonderful tension between our assumptions of clean and dirty and considerations around the commodity object.

Isabel Mertz’s work was also a highlight though I was disappointed to find only one sculpture by the artist on display – a bronze casting of Lego blocks, attached to moveable hinges. In her statement Mertz invites the viewer to play with the piece. On her website the artist comments that her work is inspired, amongst other things, by her childhood, the games she used to play, the games she still plays, her family and her loss of family.

Mia Chaplin, a young painter who is quickly establishing herself in the Cape Town art scene, once again delivers with her intriguing impasto paintings based on old photographs. Elements of nostalgia and discomfort are strikingly evident in her confident use of the medium.

Mattijn Franssen, another of the 20 international participants, is a Dutch artist who creates surreal worlds. His photomontages are taken from his daily photographs, which he edits every night, selecting elements to create these dreamscapes.

Despite the number of interesting artists on display and the exceptional curating skills shown by Koster, the exhibition suffers logistically from a lack of artist statements, or statements that offer little insight.  In addition some works are unlit and the apathetic interns were less than helpful on opening night.  There is strong reason to believe, however, that all of these little issues will soon be resolved.

Running for 10 days, the exhibition includes an exciting ‘Art in the Dark’ event where viewers will need torches to explore the exhibition in an otherwise unlit space – a ‘treasure hunt’ for art mimicking Koster’s own methodology in seeking out exciting local artists, no matter the destination.

Suzanne Duncan

No Man’s Art runs at the corner of Albert and Prestwich Streets in De Waterkant 27 March to 6 April.  The Art in the Dark event takes place as a part of First Thursdays on 3 April. Guests are encouraged to bring their own torches.

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