Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts, Jewellery and Fine Wine

Live Virtual Auction, 8 - 11 November 2020

Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art Part II
  • Norman Catherine; Who Zoo
  • Norman Catherine; Who Zoo
  • Norman Catherine; Who Zoo
  • Norman Catherine; Who Zoo
  • Norman Catherine; Who Zoo

Lot Estimate
ZAR 800 000 - 1 200 000

About this Item

South African 1949-
Who Zoo

signed and dated 2006

carved and painted wood
125 by 181 by 10cm


Sculpture is integral to Norman Catherine’s febrile brand of popexpressionism. In 1973/74 he produced a series of surreal and anthropomorphic sculptures that pre-empted his subsequent interest in visualising psychological anxieties through hybrid human–animal forms. Catherine’s method as an artist is evolutionary. His work typically progresses through series, fragments of earlier ideas often invoked and reworked in new pieces. This is true of the diminutive painted-wood sculptures he began showing in the mid-1990s, of which this includes more recent examples. The figures translated into three-dimensional form were birthed in his paintings of the late 1980s and early 1990s. They also owed a debt to his ensemble of pop-coloured characters – businessmen, policemen, skeletons, jollers – crafted from flat metal and sometimes presented in stylised tableaus and cabinets.

Slicker in form and finish than this earlier sculptural work, Catherine’s wood figures gestured to the West African tradition of painted colon figures representing either European or African subjects in occupational attire. These popular tourist objects, which had recently become available in post-apartheid South Africa when this work was created, trace their lineage to divination figures produced by the Baule peoples of Côte d’Ivoire. The talismanic quality of Baule figures is key to an appreciation of Catherine’s cabinet figures. ‘Through these figurines, I try to capture as many of the characteristics and pathologies of human nature that I have come across and to expose the taboos behind different cultural superstitions.’1

Musician David Bowie, who visited South Africa in 1995, was immediately taken by Catherine’s vivid sculptures. At his advice dealer Bernard Jacobson staged a South Africa exhibition in London from which Bowie acquired Catherine’s cabinet sculpture Fanagalo Store (1995). It was sold in 2016 at a London auction for £81 250. The present lot is bookend to the series started a decade earlier and contains, in miniature, many figures that Catherine has since monumentally cast in bronze, including Piscivorous and Know Thyself (both 2013).

  1. Hazel Friedman (2000) Norman Catherine, Johannesburg: Goodman Gallery, page 123.

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