New York Times, Art in Review
Friday,March 25, 2005
By Holland Cotter
'Imprints: Works on Paper'
Axis regularly delivers fresh news of contemporary art in South Africa. And it says much for the flow of production there that the gallery never lacks strong material. Given post-apartheid racial and social tensions, it's no surprise that much of the work is politically charged, but in different ways from just a few years ago, as is evident in this show.
Brett Murray's racially loaded takeoffs on New Yorker-style cartoons, for example, deliver their sting in images of urbane gentility. In Hentie van der Merwe's group photograph of colorfully dressed African women in the Netherlands, ideas of emigration and isolation mix. Zwelethu Mthethwa's portraits of township residents in cramped homes jazzily papered with newsprint advertisements speak of creativity under pressure, as do the linocuts of the township artists Linga Diko and Uyanda Tom, produced despite a chronic shortage of paper and other supplies.
David Goldblatt, Graeme Williams and the irrepressible Clinton Fein represent two generations of photojournalists vigilantly documenting modern South African history. Generations of artists, from Robert Hodgins, now 84, through Kim Berman, William Kentridge, David Koloane and Sam Nhlengethwa, to Tracey Rose, just entering her 30's, have done the same in other media.
A print by Ms. Rose, with painterly images of flags, guns and skeletons, is intriguing as a departure from her video work. A charcoal drawing of Times Square by Diana Page, done on a visit last year, forges a fleet trans-Atlantic link. And an ink drawing by Stephan Erasmus stands out as the show's only abstraction. Its diagonal, squared-off linear patterns apparently represent a coded language the artist has devised to translate the text of personal correspondence into art. To the uninitiated viewer, however, the patterns look like labyrinths within labyrinths, an aptly unreadable symbol for South African politics now.