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Heritage meets Contemporary Art - a review of Norval x Boschendal Article Image

Heritage meets Contemporary Art - a review of Norval x Boschendal

Posted on 18 May 2022

Written by Fiona Scott-Berning

To begin, it is essential for me to state my bias: I am a self-proclaimed Norvalian! Situated beneath the Constantiaberg Mountain adjacent to the Steenberg vineyards, the Norval Foundation is a modern pavilion for one of the leading, 20th-century South African art collections. This - paired with its beautiful sculpture garden, the library of my dreams, and a year-long membership - prompted a sentimental attachment that has evolved into a form of pilgrimage. Needless to say, I was elated when I heard about the formal partnership between the Norval and Boschendal Wine Farm that would see the opening of a satellite gallery located within Boschendal's historic Manor House.

Dating back to 1688, Boschendal is one of the oldest wine farms in the Cape. Thus, unsurprisingly, its beginnings are linked to the Dutch East India Company and the Huguenots. In 1812 Paul de Villiers, a third-generation Huguenot, built the manor house for his bride Anna Susanna Louw. It is an outstanding example of the cultural assimilation between the French and the Dutch as, while the architecture was unquestionably influenced by the rural longhouse tradition of North-Western Europe, it was adapted to suit its local setting. This adaptation became a form of architecture which we now call Cape Dutch. Today, Boschendal's Manor House holds the honour of being both a National Monument and a Provincial Heritage site.

Left: Norval x Boschendal Manor House Entrance | Right: THK Gallery Flights of Fancy (Lerato Motaung & Jake Michael Singer)

For the partnership's first year, the Manor House Gallery will showcase art from the Norval Foundation's Homestead Collection - a collection focused on modern art from the continent but with strong South African representation.

The gallery's main exhibition space has been home to the iconic photographic series Somnyama Ngonyama by Zanele Muholi, and is now showing Kate Gottgens' 'The Whispering of Ghosts'. The secondary gallery space has showcased works from a broader range of artists and appeals to viewers who are potentially interested in investing in local South African Art. 'Fever', curated by Morne Visagie and Art Gazette, was the first collective exhibition, followed by 'Flights of Fancy' curated by THK Gallery.

When one considers the privileged history and modern status of the Manor House, a contemporary art gallery is almost out of place; the building is a physical representation of historic privilege in South Africa. However, as Jacques Mouton, the architect in charge of the gallery installation, eloquently pointed out: "This is an important project for heritage." And I agree. To have an established historic institution, frequented by local and international guests, reinvent itself in such a meaningful manner by encouraging dialogue that is almost counterintuitive to its existence, is outstanding.

Placing contemporary art in a heritage monument was a bold move, and the Norval and Boschendal have seamlessly executed it. The art exhibited by both Zanele and Kate inserts a dialogue that challenges the Manor House. But the heritage site holds its own; the sensitive gallery installation suspends the artworks, giving the viewer space to admire the past and the present, making it a resounding success and a potentially new way of reinvigorating South African heritage sites. This Norvalian now has a new pilgrimage... and this one is on a vineyard!

Zanele Muholi, Somnyama Ngonyama

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