Andy Goldsworthy & Ouattara Watts @ Glen Carlou

I opened an exhibition of new works by Andy Goldsworthy and Ouattara Watts at Glen Carlou in Paarl last night. My thoughts:
 Andy Goldsworthy & Ouattara Watts @ Glen Carlou
Sitting on the beach on Ilha do Papagaio, Island of the Parrot one hour south of São Paulo, as the world stock markets melted down last week, I became aware of priorities and thought maybe beauty had an edge on money. At the end of the day perhaps it’s an appreciation of beauty that sets humankind apart from other animals and although money and art have become confused a lot recently, the beauty of the natural environment, environmental art if you like, has a lot going for it. Especially when your investments are evaporating at an alarming rate as the stock market dives faster than a hungry Southern Right whale.

I guess oxygen remains my first priority and while my cave-dwelling forebears thought fire was important to keep warm and saber tooth tigers at bay, in this time of global warming, an air conditioner has a lot to recommend it. Even if it only occasionally works as is increasingly the case in South Africa with an electricity supply so badly mismanaged by Eskom as to be a national scandal.

Two years ago, I received a telephone call from an Eskom PR. Seems there was a visiting delegation of MPs from Eastern Europe and the Eskom CEO wanted to know whether I would present a cigar and single malt tasting at a lavish banquet he was throwing for them. But why cigars and whisky I naively enquired? Visitors to SA would surely far rather experience some local indulgences. What about brandy – we’re one of the world’s oldest and best producers and what about chocolate – how about a brandy and chocolate tasting? Although we don’t grow the cocoa beans, they do come from Côte d’Ivoire and we have a couple of world-class chocolatiers who can produce the goods.

“Give us a written proposal” said the PR and so I did. A couple of weeks went by and then the PR phoned again about the cigars and whisky. But what about brandy and chocolate? “No, the CEO prefers whisky and cigars.”

While whisky and cigars and not electricity supply were his priority, water is even more important and it’s something that Donald Hess knows a lot about. The History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage presents a novel treatment of human civilization in terms of six beverages. It starts off with beer, a product our nomadic ancestors discovered once they stopped moving round and settled to cultivate the cereals they found growing wild in Mesopotamia.

Wine is chapter two. The fermented fruit of the vine was the tipple of choice in ancient Greece and Rome and interestingly enough, both civilizations mixed water with wine before they drank it – only Bacchus and Barbarians could drink the stuff neat. Next comes rum – Kill Devill – the spirit that fueled the slave trade and then coffee, followed by tea which made the British Empire work and finally Coca Cola, the world’s most refreshing burp as JG Ballard put it. The book ends with an epilogue on mineral water, a $46 billion global industry growing 15% per annum.

Donald Hess is clearly a man who reads a book from both ends. The son and grandson of a brewer he started at chapter one and then jumped to the back with his Valser mineral water business. He’s now returned to chapter two with his wine interests in California, Argentina, Australia and here.

But through it all, he’s kept a close watch on beauty. Looking around, beauty is obviously one of his priorities – and we’re very fortunate to have some that he collects around us tonight.

One of the greatest French winemakers, Nicolas Joly, calls himself an artist of the earth. So it makes sense for a literal artist of the earth, Andy Goldsworthy, to present new work at a winery. It’s a pity I missed Goldsworthy as his dad was an Applied Mathematician – which is my day job. Goldsworthy is an environmental artist and it’s most appropriate that he came to SA to make an artwork as the site – terroir if you like – is central to his artistic vision. This is no Eskom importing ready-mades – he ordered twenty tons of sand and was fortunate enough to have the SA land artist Strijdom van der Merwe on hand to help.

The other artist presenting new work tonight is Ouattara Watts who was born in Abidjan where my cocoa beans for Eskom would have come from. Although he now lives in New York, Watts regards himself as a citizen of the world and is concerned with memory and the past. Of course his homeland was one of the ports that supplied the 11 million slaves who built the New World, sold into slavery for some casks of rum – chapter three in Tom Standage’s book.

But while Standage may have come up with an amusing metaphor for history as six drinks – I think Donald Hess has trumped him. By drawing our attention to beauty and the unexpected shapes, colours and forms it can take, he makes us realize that beauty is a priority to be cherished and enjoyed.

While Goldsworthy and Watts have created new work for this show, Deryck Healy passed away four years ago and the creative phase of his career has obviously ended although his reputation continues to grow. Showing work by Healy is continuation of a commitment Donald Hess made to the artist before he died that he would have the first show at the gallery on Glen Carlou and the works are here by right of friendship and undoubted quality.

My favourite Healy is called Horizon: it’s an image in oil on wood, the horizon looks just like the tail fin of a Southern Right whale which they raise as a kind of salutation when they’re having a good time off Ilha do Papagaio.

I hope you enjoy the exhibition and I congratulate Donald Hess, curator Myrtha Steiner, winemaker David Finlayson and the team at Glen Carlou for putting together such a professional show.