Culture Vulture / GUEST-BLOGGER

With winter scratching at the windows, Hg2 Cape Town author, Keith Bain, takes a break from watching the pounding Atlantic surf to report that there’s quite a bit of indoor intrigue lined-up for the Mother City’s cultural hedonists.
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Following a packed-to-the-gills VIP opening last week, art enthusiasts can now check out a major retrospective of the work of Russian-born artist, Vladimir Tretchikoff, at—of all places—the South African National Gallery. Amongst the best-known names in South African art, Tretchikoff is frequently dismissed as the ‘King of Kitsch’, amongst other even less pleasant monikers. Despite his perennial popularity and the ubiquity of his work (recognisable in myriad lowbrow and popular contexts, such as hotel lobbies and kitchens), there has never been a significant exhibition of his work in any South African gallery. Tretchikoff lived and worked in Cape Town for 60 years until he died here in 2006; his Fruits of Bali was sold by Sotheby’s last year for R1,74-million. During his heyday, the artist exhibited worldwide, showing almost exclusively in commercial spaces such as department stores—he significantly impacted the way in which artists earned their keep, popularising the sale of print reproductions rather than originals, a move which earned him the nickname ‘people’s painter’. That he is being shown at the South African National Gallery is a significant step towards acknowledging that popularity rather than high-minded taste might determine the merits of an artist. On show is a fairly extensive sampling of Tretchikoff’s work—from atmospheric portraits to tacky wildlife scenes (and more than enough glam nudie pics)—on loan from art collectors around the globe. The exhibition, which took three years to put together, runs at the National Gallery until 26th September. And judging by attendance at last week’s pre-opening launch, is set to be amongst the most popular exhibitions ever held here. If nothing else, it will have tongues wagging as the great debate over artistic talent gets into full swing.

Athol Fugard, who receives a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in theatre this month (the same year in which he celebrates his 80th birthday), is the author and director of The Bird Watchers, currently enjoying its debut run at The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town’s East City Precinct, where urban rejuvenation continues apace. The semi-autobiographical play (which Fugard came over from San Diego to direct) confronts the issue of creative process, and uses some challenging dramatic techniques to investigate some difficult existential questions. Occupying a beautifully converted church, The Fugard has—since it opened early in 2010—become the venue for serious theatre in South Africa. It offers pew-style seating (and less comfortable partial view gallery stools which you should definitely avoid).

On Friday you can beat a retreat from the cold and the highbrow and step into a swinging gallery for a line-up of divergent and emergent culture. Loads of it, in fact, crammed into one heady night entitled We Are Beautiful Losers, an ironic name for a night of anti-establishment art and entertainment provided by all kinds of free-spirited Capetonians at /A Word of Art gallery in Woodstock. The night starts with a screening of the arthouse documentary Beautiful Losers, followed by a mash-up of live art and live music, along with the disc-spinning talents of DJs Fani and Fucking Matt. It’ll be worth the night out just to catch a performance by Jeremy Loops, a brilliant young talent currently taking the city by storm with his varied, on-the-spot performances, collaborating frequently with musicians from a range of genres that makes him difficult to pin down. Performing alongside him are Cape Town bands Beatenberg and Bateleur. Judging from the Facebook guest list, it looks to be quite a party. /A Word of Art is in the Woodstock Industrial Centre, a creative community hub just east of the city centre; it’s a ‘new brow’ gallery dedicated to emerging artists, so a good place to pick up the scent of undiscovered talents, especially if you don’t mind showings of street art, graffiti and underground art. Anything, in fact, goes.

Chinese Girl by Tretchikoff

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