Impala Fountain, The  


Name: Impala Fountain, The
Medium: Bronze
Date Made: 1960
Memorial To The 6 Million
Unity is Strength
Diamond Diggers
Man and His Soul 2
Unknown Miner, The

Formerly on the corner of President and Joubert Streets, Johannesburg, where it was eventually vandalised. Since 2002 restored by Michael Wald and relocated outside the Anglo American Building, Main Street, Johannesburg.

Known variously as The Stampede or The Impala Fountain, this work is unquestionably one of the most popular public sculptures in South Africa. Like Wald’s earlier Monument to the Six Million (1959), it was another feat of engineering and bronze casting. When Alec Gorshel, a friend of Wald’s, became the Mayor of Johannesburg in 1959, he launched projects to improve the aesthetic environment of the city. He persuaded Harry Oppenheimer, head of De Beers and the Anglo American Corporation, to fund the erection of a public monument in memory of his late father, Ernest, who had died in 1957

The decision to opt for a monument consisting of bronze impalas and a water feature was probably motivated by sentiments on the need to bring a sense of ‘nature’ back into the heavily-built urban environment where such animals had once roamed freely only decades before.

During the Renaissance in Europe, fountains had evolved into a major public art form. The necessity and availability of water for sustaining life made them ideal public symbols of good government. The use of fountain ‘set-pieces’ as expressions of confidence and civic pride, if not propaganda, was as relevant in Florence in the 1500s as it was in the dry, capitalist mining city of Johannesburg in the 1960s.

The success of Stampede led Wald to boast that it had been “unconditionally acclaimed by child or adult, by amateur or connoisseur” and that it was a work “unbound by time, fashion or ‘isms’”.   Over the years, images of Stampede have been very widely published, so the general popularity of the work cannot be denied. However Wald’s own claim that it is a sculpture “unbound by time, fashion or ‘isms’ ” requires interrogation. Its soaring arc of bronze impalas evokes associations with earlier modern precedents that are the true progenitors of this work. The sequential photographs of Muybridge and the dynamism of Italian Futurist sculpture lie at the core of its populist heart. So too does the cinematic animation of such films as Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940) and, most notably, Bambi (1942). The sculpture almost seems to reconcile two extremes in 20th-century culture that theorists like Clement Greenberg thought irreconcilable – avantgarde and kitsch. Wald was certainly not the first monumental sculptor of the 20th century to employ elements of the latter.

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