A gentle invasion of Auke De Vries

The Holland born Auke de Vries is firm in his stance as to what the intention of art should be with regard to the public. He insists that art should complement the space it occupies. By this insistence he alludes to both the public’s mind as well as the actual space where art can be experienced. His work in particular is intended to be installed and viewed in public spaces especially the cities. He affirms that his art is not influenced by any artist in particular however he admires the work of Richard Serra.

I’ve had the opportunity of meeting the 73 year old in the district of the Cradle of Mankind at Nirox Foundation on 2 March while attending a writer’s workshop on Art Reporting: with him as a subject. The present jots are results of my impression of the artist.

Nirox Foundation is an expanse of nature reservation cum Sculpture garden. It is here that Auke is presently having 11 Sculptures entitled – A Gentle Invasion on show. The fact that these sculptures are inspired by birds nest is quite apparent to the viewer.

Surprisingly, contrary to the number of sculptures that the invitation purports to being on show – the body of work on show exceeds 11 if you take into consideration the work in the Cool Room exhibition space as well as in the Studio Gallery where there are what he calls proposal commissions which in essence are a cluster of miniature sculptures which one day may become huge gigantic sculptures in public spaces. On the walls there are preparatory drawings of these sculptures on show. Outside above a flowing river that feeds the ponds and lakes of Nirox a robust metropolis nest sculpture made out of stainless steel is suspended. And still outside there are several sculptures, about three meters high, across the green pathway that leads to the Studio Gallery.

Humorously, as we sat down in the studio gallery on that Tuesday afternoon to do my interview exercise, I noted an artwork, in the form of the motif of bird-nests, on exhibition that resembled a security camera. It was actually the second time that I saw this kind of sculpture. There was another one outside the studio gallery. I asked him whether I was off the mark in thinking that the artwork has any reference to a security camera.

‘Oh ya, with this work in particular I am paying homage to South African society by playing with issues of security. High security (security cameras) in South Africa was one thing that struck me the first time I came here’ he responded.

When I asked him whether there is still a demand of public art he points out that the demand is still there because the Cityscape is not complete without people and that public art is there to complements the interaction between the city dwellers and the city itself.

He points out that his art is inspired by the city itself. Ironically he was born in a rural area of Holland. When he was 16 years he hitched hiked to Paris and there began practicing art as a self-taught artist by making etchings. He constructed models from which he made his etchings and apparently someone at some point drew his attention to the fact that the small models could also be regarded as art – as sculpture. This sparked his fascination with three-dimensional form.

His birdlike colony sculptural form is actually a metaphorical reference to the form of the cityscape. He does not feel that titling the artworks is an important aspect of the work for the viewer inevitably brings their own meaning into the work of art, as such most of his work is untitled. By leaving the work untitled he sees this as an invitation to the viewer to participate in the creation of the meaning of the work. In the light of this, having done commissions in Germany, Amsterdam as well as Bangkok – he does not believe in holding public discussions of his commissioned work that occupies public spaces. However in a setting where he is having an exhibition, like the resent show at Nirox, he is open to do walkabouts and give talks of his work.

I ask whether he has ever done a collaboration work with another artist of artists working on the same piece. He is strongly opposed to the idea of corporations, organizations or cities giving commissions to two or more artists, who may not even work within the same concept or share concerns, one commission to work on.

He argues that the selection panel that is tasked with awarding the commission should choose one artist whom they think is the best to work on the commission. Each artist has their own unique concepts and concerns that they address creatively through their work.


Auke de Vries 11 Sculptures for S.A.- A Gentle Invasion runs until 2 MAY AT Nirox Foundation. Then 16 May – 1 July at Seippel Gallery, Arts on Main and comes to Tshwane/Pretoria 19 August – 26 September later this year at the Pretoria Art Museum.

14 March

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2010