Public art in Joburg/the world comes to Sandton

Marcus Neustetter's "Erosion"

Go to Sandton Square for the Public Art around the World exhibition. On Tuesday night on a corner of Sandton – called Burghers Walk – I was last at during the height of World Cup fever I witnessed an extraordinary performance by Marcus Neustetter. Titled “Erosion” it involved thousands of brilliantly-lit neon glowsticks being thrown down a stairway in the darkness by a troupe of performers dressed in workman’s overalls who then proceeded to sweep up every last brilliant piece of light, bundling them back into trashcans to be carried off. A comment on the fragility and impermanence of the world of imagination and dreams, said Lesley Perkes, of AAW! Art Project Management. “Every little glow stick was an idea” and in a harsh economic climate we need to be even more concerned about arts funding being cut. “We don’t think the arts is a luxury. We think that you need to nourish people’s minds and that neglected space in their hearts.”

I am a huge believer in the transformative nature of engaging public spaces; in their ability to create a healthy conversation with the city and those who inhabit it. They make people stop, and think. The best of public art creates a sense of wonder, provoking a reaction in people who have long stopped being curious in a city where danger often lurks. It allows people to re-inhabit space as they stop to stare. In that moment when the city slows down around them, they belong. No longer strangers in a hostile place. They are engaged.

So I am a big fan of Aaw! who have been responsible for many of the awe-inspiring works that dot this city. Managed by Lesley Perkes and Monna Mokoena of Parktown North’s Gallery MOMO their mission statement reads: “We are intent on locating poetry in the streets. We see dreams in buildings and sidewalks”.

The works they have commissioned are too numerous to mention so it’s best to look at their website but some of my most recent favourites include the fields of flowering yellow hands commissioned by the Gauteng government to greet World Cup visitors at the Gillooly’s interchange – 20 000 of them.

Flowering hands photo by landscape and graphic artist Strijdom van der Merwe

And then there is the latest Art City – Lotto-sponsored project that has seen numerous building in the city draped with the work of Mary Sibande titled “Long live the dead queen”, homage to Sophie the maid who could be queen. Mail&Guardian’s Lisa van Wyk did a great job of capturing people’s responses to this in this video.  On a drive through Newtown and the CBD a few weeks ago I was compelled to pull over and marvel at the large-scale works.
The Sandton exhibition, part of the Sandton management District’s  year-long art programme is definitely worth a visit.

Located outdoors it’s easily accessible and contextualises local public art as global showcasing it with fascinating examples from around the world. It’s also a great exhibition of the work of photo journalist Nadine Hutton who has captured the city at its best. See her work at 2point8 photo.

* I “borrowed” the photo from Strijdom van der Merwe’s portfolio of public art images that can be found here. Click for more on the Sandton exhibition. The Marcus Neustetter photo is from AAW! and captures an earlier performance of his work.

"Long live the dead queen" by Mary Sibande, to which I will add "Long live the lotto's sponsorship of public art"

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