This is not flattery
“Flattery”: excessive and insincere praise, given especially to further one’s own interests.
Diane Victor brushes off gratuitous positive feedback. Flattery as a human failing is a strong theme in this solo exhibition. In an interview Victor talked about the vain stupidity of contemporary society in terms of “the infatuation that seems to infiltrate our society, the need for flattery through one’s postings and one’s likes and dislikes on social media, and the folly of attempting to rewrite histories that cannot be changed”. [Love thy Selfie is the work reproduced on the exhibition invitation]. But as the definition above indicates, flattery is linked to insincerity. I declare up front – I have no self-interest in Diane Victor’s art or career (interest yes but self-interest, no) and my positive comments are neither excessive nor insincere. So with this caveat, I have no qualms in recommending this astonishing exhibition. Diane Victor’s works are complex; extremely tough in the sense of being confrontational, challenging and thought-provoking; yet also aesthetically seductive and meticulously fine in their execution – breathtakingly so. There is a commitment, a passion, an authenticity and an incisive rigour which comes across in both the works and when Victor talks about them. She said several times in the walkabout: “The one thing I cannot tolerate is indifference”. And surely few can respond to Victor’s works with indifference.
Folly as a timeless and universal theme
Victor’s talent and consummate draughts[wo]manship aside, I have a particular interest in the theme of Folly. In one of my previous lives (when the Art History Department at Wits focused on the Renaissance in Italy), I developed a course on Netherlandish Art focusing on Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Breughel – this long after Victor graduated from Wits. The idea of a safety valve for societal critique of power and control is seen across many cultures: the joker, the clown, the jester, the fool, can all comment in a way which nobody else can without being imprisoned – or worse. And the Fool’s voice in the late 15th and into the 16th century at the time of the Reformation, was a common theme amongst northern European thinkers, humanists, theologians and artists .
In 1494 Sebastian Brandt wrote Das Narrenschiff (Stultifera Navis in Latin) or Ship of Fools. Brandt critiqued the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church by means of the bitingly satiric presentation of the weaknesses and vices of some 100 fools who set sail to Narragonia, the fool’s paradise. These satires were illustrated with woodcuts (some say by a young Durer).
It is these Ship of Fools images which resonate with Diane Victor as seen in the first image in the exhibition space.
In 1509, several years after Brandt’s publication Erasmus wrote In Praise of Folly. In Erasmus’ text, Folly postures as a goddess and her adulatory companions include characters such as Self-love; Flattery; Forgetfulness; Laziness; Hedonism; Wantonness; Intemperance. Folly praises these characteristics as virtues. This (along with Victor’s “explanation” of her works) gives access to the images, particularly those in the very tough Oedipus series. I write “explanation” in inverted commas as there is nothing overly determined about Victor’s works. They remain enigmatic, textured (both materially and symbolically), evocative and suggestively elusive – despite meticulous observation of realistic detail. In her artist’s statement, Victor notes: “I am interested in the technical component, the ambiguity that the technical interaction brings to the work. It is not about illustrating an argument, but the process and the medium that bring in other unexpected readings.”
A 3D tour of the exhibition gives an overview of the exhibition layout. In the first part of the exhibition are large works from the In Praise of Folly series, the Oedipus series, 2 black/greenboard chalk drawings and a very large scale work (190 X 280): Some go mad, some run away
A very large smoke image printed onto chiffon suspended from the ceiling, breaks the long cavernous gallery space.
Smoke drawings on glass; drawings on stone; and ink and gouache drawings
There are further smaller works in various media (smoke drawings printed on glass), drawings on stone, and on the back wall approximately 24 smaller ink and gouache drawings all of which continue the comment on the often senseless madness and inversion of norms of everyday life.
On-line viewing is NO substitute for close viewing of the actual works
Diane Victor will give another walkabout on Saturday 8th May and the Gallery is open by appointment until 19th May. Contact Titus on 011 559 2556 or email email@example.com. Seeing the virtual exhibition is a wonderful reminder but cannot do this extraordinary body of work justice. Victor’s eye for detail, technical virtuosity, and brave experimentation with different media and processes is profound. All artworks need to be seen in the original but these more than most!