n De Arte - Exact imagination : 300 years of botanically inspired art in South Africa, Cyril Coetzee, Tracey Murinik and Astrid Klee (Eds.) : book review

Volume 2015, Issue 91
  • ISSN : 0004-3389



Norman Bryson (2001:110), in considering floral art in the seventeenth century, ventures that '[t]he paintings [of botanical subjects] build a strong case for themselves without once having to invoke visual pleasure. Pleasure is disavowed, hidden by production; what replaces it is strain, effort and the work imperative.' Confronted with Deborah Poynton's , in Cyril Coetzee's lavish publication that accompanies the exhibition 'Exact Imagination: 300 years of botanically inspired art in South Africa', curated by Coetzee and held at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg between 8 October and 6 December 2014, the viewer might be inclined to dismiss Bryson's assertions of grinding labour as the only signification of botanical art. Poynton's floral utopia (p. 130) pulsates with what art critic Lloyd Pollack (2006) terms the artist's trademark 'thrilling feats of illusionist skill' and 'phantasmagorical irreality'; it is not the only work in this impressive exhibition that suggests intense pleasure, and not necessarily of the aesthetic kind. Notably, the very first plate (p. 2) in the exhibition catalogue, Peter Charles Henderson's (1801), confounds the limitations of metal engraving to produce a narrative of glutinous sensuality that verges on soft porn.

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