Villa Edoardo

I recently had the privilege of attending the most expansive showing ever of works by that giant of South African public sculpture, Edoardo Villa. That prospect alone might have been enough to get one’s juices flowing. But not only was it Villa, it was Villa in a baptismal moment – inaugurating the sculpture garden at the Nirox Foundation, a sublimely manicured estate in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind aimed at “advancing South African art globally, imparting skill and stimulating artistic expression”.

Edoardo Villa, The Friends (Standing figure x111 yellow and Standing figure x11 blue), 2006, acciaio e pittura a smalto, entrambi 238 x 50 x 55 cm. Courtesy artist e Everard Read Gallery Recentemente ho avuto il privilegio di assistere alla più ampia mostra in assoluto di opere di quel gigante della scultura pubblica sudafricana, EdoardoVilla. That prospect alone might have been enough to get one’s juicesflowing. But not only was it Villa, it was Villa in a baptismal moment- inaugurating the sculpture garden at the Nirox Foundation, asublimely manicured estate in the heart of the Cradle of Humankindaimed at “advancing South African art globally, imparting skill andstimulating artistic expression”.Jointly presented by Liza Essers of Liza Nicole Fine Art, Everard Read Gallery, and Benji Liebman’s Nirox, this showing of new and historic works by the man widely regarded as this country’s pre-eminent living sculptor was curated by Professors Karel Nel and Alan Crump, together with historian and biographer Amalie von Maltitz. Aggiungendo il coronamento di questo amalgama di aristocrazia artistica, la mostra doveva essere lanciata nientemeno che dalla vincitrice del premio Nobel Nadine Gordimer, amica di lunga data e collaboratrice dello scultore. Confesso che la paura dei miei tacchi a spillo che perforano i sacri prati verdi erano l'ultima delle mie ansie in una notte abbellita da una formazione così intoccabile. So I wore flat shoes instead and decided to approach the evening head on – with no airs, no graces, no adulation of VIP faces, but most importantly no socially sculpted expectations of how I might receive the work before me.On arrival I was struck by the delightful playfulness of Villa’s works, assembled in this vast and lush green park beneath the darkening trees at dusk. Come grandi giocattoli fantastici, abitano il paesaggio come creature aliene, i loro colori folli sono un'intrusione straniera e audace in un mondo di vita vegetale verde intenso e terra rossa rocciosa. Ci sono 58 di queste opere monumentali su 15 ettari di parco paesaggistico. Non si fondono, in modo neutro, organico, senza indugi. Instead, they cheekily and boldly assert themselves over their surroundings, turning the scene into something else, something foreign and strange that won’t be quiet or settle down. Strange giant birds readying themselves for flight or outsize toy spaceships about to blast off into orbit.This gives me a sense of Villa’s spirit and perhaps even a clue to his longevity. A 92 anni è ancora furiosamente produttivo. E, se sto ascoltando correttamente il linguaggio delle sue sculture, non è una corsa facile, né un'anima facile da domare. Although people are wont to speak about the sensuality of his sculptures, it is more their stubborn maleness that strikes me – their libidinous forcefulness. Non c'è nulla di obliquamente erotico o seducente in questi lavori. Villa’s colours are so dazzling in their wild, pop playfulness, one’s gaze bounces off of his surfaces. They are boldly sexual forms – penetrative rather than receptive -¬ obstinately and wilfully phallocentric. E se attingono a un'eredità artistica africana, come sottolineano sia Nel che Gordimer, è la mascolinità energica e senza compromessi della cultura africana. There might even be something of the unapologetic machismo of Chaka Zulu in these works – ruling hard and dancing on thorns.Almost every piece seems to be centred around an erection, sometimes more than one. Forse è lo stesso membro in movimento o forse un immaginario collasso orgiastico. There are the female parts too – the vessels, the receptacles, the recipients, the hot red lips and ecstatic licking tongues, but it is the virile male hardness of these metallic forms that gives them their prime tenor. E sebbene alcuni dei lavori più recenti siano meno spigolosi, questa non è una forza che è stata abbandonata negli ultimi anni della sua vita. In questa riluttanza ad abbandonare la virilità della sua giovinezza, Villa è in compagnia di grandi come il poeta WB Yeats che, desideroso di ritrovare il vigore della giovinezza, nel 1933 subì un'operazione di ringiovanimento di Steinach per riattivare le sue ghiandole sessuali. Yeats sought in sexuality, as death neared, “the transcendental illumination of consciousness that ritual magic had once seemed to promise”.But Villa’s sculpture finds even more acute kinship in the writings of Philip Roth and JM Coetzee, who, like him, inhabit a post-feminist universe, rendering the machinations of their undying masculinity an even more compelling proposition. In novels like Everyman and The Human Stain, Roth’s central characters are libidinous old men who cannot give up on the hungry vitality of their youth, no matter how improper their lustfulness may have become. Similarly, in JM Coetzee’s Disgrace, an aging professor’s hot liaison with one of his students results in his excommunication from the politically correct realms of the academy and his banishment into the wilderness of his conscience. In Slow Man, Paul Rayment, a retired photographer, loses his leg in a bicycle accident and spends his days lusting after Marijana Jokic, his earthy Eastern European day nurse, while in Diary of a Bad Year, Señor C, an aging author has the undying hots for Anya, the beautiful young woman whom he hires to type his manuscript. Parlando sotto gli alberi scuri, illuminati da una lampada a cherosene nella luce del giorno che svanisce rapidamente, Gordimer ha parlato di come Villa arrivò in Sud Africa come prigioniero di guerra italiano. “Villa was very young then and he has given his entire life since then – his great gifts and unstinting energy – to us,” she said. E lì sedeva l'uomo stesso, che indossava un cappello sexy e sembrava il maestro dell'anca a 92 anni. Quiet on the night, but not in his nature.To my eyes, Villa’s sculptures have less in common with those of twentieth century behemoths Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore, than with the kinetic energy of works by American sculptor Alexander Calder and Umberto Boccioni, whose sculptures centred on the portrayal of movement, dynamism, speed, and technology. Villa’s forms invite interpretations of hypothetical movement. Cosa succederebbe se questa forma tubolare dondolasse avanti e indietro? In che modo le altre forme intorno sarebbero agitate o influenzate? Senza che il movimento avvenga realmente, lo si immagina traspirante. And it is perhaps this movement in absentia – the mere suggestion of gesture – that makes his works so profoundly titillating. Eppure, luminosi e congelati nel tempo, risvegliano i sensi e provocano i neuroni che collegano il corpo irrequieto alla mente sempre eccitabile.