Wings of the Schechinah at the Museum

Name Wings of the Shechinah - The Sculptural Art of Herman Wald
Where SA Jewish Museum Hatfield Street Cape Town
When 20 February to 15 July 2012
Museum hours Sunday to Thursday 10am to 5pm, Friday 10am to 2pm

Note: For a detailed photographic tour through the exhibition go here.

Many South Africans, especially residents of Johannesburg, will be familiar with the work of the Jewish, Hungarian-born sculptor Herman Wald (1906-1970), even if they might not have ever heard of him. His iconic Impala Fountain a memorial to Ernest Oppenheimer, is a popular monument of the Johannesburg CBD; his impressive Diamond Digger fountain in Kimberley is yet another. For Jewish Johannesburgers, Wald’s sculptural endeavours have long been a presence in their lives, with amongst others, his huge beaten copper wings made for the Ark of the Berea Shul and his Holocaust Memorial in the Westpark cemetery. While Wald’s reputation seems to rest on these public commissions, his many other smaller works in sculpture have been apparently forgotten, or at least neglected by the mainstream historians of South African art. Local sculpture has always been a neglected area of research and publication; a situation that has and is being remedied by a number of art historians such as Elizabeth Rankin.

The neglect of Wald’s work might have had much to do with the fact that he worked in a bewildering range of forms, styles and media, and that he was deemed an inconsistent “commercial” sculptor and not a “professional” one according to the usual criteria of having one’s work acquired by public art galleries, or attaining a teaching post in a tertiary fine arts institution. Wald’s work is not to be found in any South African public art collection, and he never taught formally. Yet he managed to establish a full-time career for himself as a sculptor in a difficult context for artists, and, from his Johannesburg studio, he played an important role as a mentor to other aspirant sculptors.

SA Jewish Museum Cape Town

Kria on view at exhibition

Wald’s work is diverse both stylistically and thematically, revealing his knowledge of, and exposure to a variety of modern movements and styles which he absorbed as a student in Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, Paris and London. His difficulty, perhaps, was adapting these influences and making compromises to suit the demands of commissions and works made for uncomprehending South African audiences and the patrons upon whom he depended for his livelihood between 1938 and his death in 1970. The son of a rabbi, and steeped in Jewish tradition, Wald sought patronage from the Johannesburg Jewish community and produced many works on Biblical and spiritual themes. Of interest is the challenge he took up as a sculptor in relation to the prohibition of the Second Commandment, and the reception of his work by Jewish audiences.

While Wald’s major public works have survived, much of his other work was either left in his studio, or sold, lost, and even destroyed over the years. However, largely thanks to the efforts of his late wife Vera, who documented his work and his career assiduously, there is a good record of what he achieved. The retrieval of Wald’s oeuvre has become a family mission; largely driven by his sons Louis and Michael. Louis, who established a successful computer software company in London, has set up a highly-detailed online database on his father’s work at www.HermanWald.com He has also been instrumental in working with Wits University in setting up two impressive casts of bronzes by Wald on their campus.

Sanctum on view at exhibition1

The impressive centre-piece which will greet visitors to the exhibition on Wald at the SA Jewish Museum will be his Wings of the Schechinah which will be shown in the appropriate setting of the Old Shul in Cape Town’s Gardens. It has been decided to entitle the exhibition Wings of the Shechinah: The Sculptural Art of Herman Wald made of beaten metal, the Wings are a modern equivalent to the inspirational work of the ancient Jewish sculptors who made furnishings for the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of Solomon. Embracing the Ark in which the Law is carried, as Wald himself said; “the aim is to give the impression that the message they carry is floating across the whole world”.

On show will be over 50 sculptures - three on a monumental scale, over 40 sketches, writings and an array of audio visual displays.