Desmond Mpilo Tutu, the first black Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, requires little introduction. Well known for his steadfast and unapologetic public voice, this avuncular clergyman and social activist is however also celebrated for his good humour. Upon seeing Ed Young’s super-realist prosthetic sculpture depicting a likeness of him swinging from a chandelier, Tutu laughed and pulled a fist at the work’s creator. “I’ll send you bad dreams,” he told Young. Arch was one of three works acquired by the Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA) following an open competition. It was unveiled in August 2010, a month after Tutu officially retired from public life, in IDASA’s Democracy Centre on Spin Street, Cape Town. The work, which is without equal locally for its freewheeling interpretation of a prominent public figure, was complemented by a site-specific mural reading “BE PATIENT” in large lettering, with the statement “WE ONLY HAVE A FEW THINGS TO FIX” placed beneath.
Arch typifies Young’s particular brand of artistic wit, which ranges from cheeky to scabrous. Born in Welkom in 1978, Young trained as a sculptor at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. His output to date includes video, performance, sculpture and text-based works on paper. His early work was often situational and sociological, rehearsing as much as refining various neo-conceptual and appropriation art strategies. For his work Bruce Gordon (Found Object [concept] (2002-03), Young staged an elaborate confidence trick: he nominated a well-known bar owner as an artwork; the work was later acquired at auction and gifted to the Iziko South African National Gallery, an accession number tattooed onto the work/ bar owner’s arm.
Ostensibly a departure from his earlier dematerialised practices, Arch nonetheless bears the hallmarks of Young’s highly networked process of making art. Young contracted film producer Clare van Zyl to coordinate the production of the work. CFX Productions, a Cape Town company specialising in props, animatronics and puppetry for the film industry, produced the sculptural likeness of Tutu – as well as a number of subsequent miniaturised self-portraits showing the artist in louche poses. Informed by the working method of Italian neo-conceptualist Maurizio Cattelan, who has produced similar life-like sculptures of prominent historical figures, Young’s celebratory Tutu work eschews strategies of hero worship, solemnity and kitsch, all commonplace in sculptures of public figures. Young’s Tutu is a mischievous anti-hero, an endearing Peter Pan of politics. “For me Tutu is probably the most important individual at present in South Africa,” Young has said. “Tutu is the first thing I think of when thinking about democracy.”1
1. Rossouw, Chad (2010) Ed Young at Institute for Democracy in South Africa, Artthrob, 18 August 2010. http://www.artthrob.co.za/Reviews/2010/08/Chad-Rossouw-reviews-Arch-by-Ed-Young-at-IDASAs-Cape-Town-Democracy-Centre.aspx
Acquired directly from the Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA)
IDASA, Cape Town, 2010
YoungBlood, Cape Town, 2013