A recent restoration and re-siting project undertaken by Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) will see the preservation of Villa’s monumental sculpture Confrontation. In 1978, two years after the Soweto Uprising, the artist and master sculptor Edoardo Villa produced a steel sculpture to engage with and reflect on that confrontational time in South Africa’s history. Now, more than 40 years later, the iconic piece has been restored and re-sited at RMB’s THINK Precinct, ensuring that the work will remain visible and relevant
Gert Kruger, Chief Risk Officer and Executive Custodian of RMB’s Art Collection, & Karel Nel, trustee of the Claire and Edoardo Villa Trust. ©The Promise Group
One of Villa’s best-known works, Confrontation, was made at a turning point in the country’s socio-political trajectory. Villa, who was not an overtly political artist by nature, produced Confrontation in the aftermath of the 1976 student-led Soweto Uprising, as a means of responding to the situation of crisis faced by South Africa at the time.
Says Gert Kruger, Chief Risk Officer and Executive Custodian of RMB’s Art Collection: “After its acquisition into RMB’s growing art collection in the mid-1990s, the restoration and re-siting of the work, ahead of South Africa’s Youth Day celebrations, is an opportune moment to reflect on the country’s tumultuous history over the past 40 years. Now positioned in a new context and publicly accessible space for generations of contemporary viewers, we feel confident that Villa’s iconic and enduring work will live on.”
One of South Africa’s biggest restoration projects of its kind, the five-ton artwork required individual disassembling of its components in order to be transported to a workshop and coated with a natural, weather-resistant sealant before being re-assembled at its new site.
ILVA Engineering’s Francesco Lombardi, who led the restoration and re-siting project, explains how Villa was a close friend of his father and would often seek out their help to move or assemble some of his works. “With us being in the engineering game, Edoardo used to get a lot of his materials from our scrap bin and create these beautiful works of art,” says Lombardi. “We used to assist him on bigger projects where the weight of the work made physical movement and positioning very difficult, so he used to come to us as close personal friends for assistance.”
Mary-Jane Darroll of the Claire and Edoardo Villa Trust highlights the importance of restoring and caring for ageing monumental works like Confrontation, ensuring their existence for time to come. “The scale of the work most likely made this one of South Africa’s largest restoration projects,” explains Darroll. “RMB located the son of Piero Lombardi – who initially worked with Villa to construct this monumental work – who has the rare skills to repair and restore the work to museum condition.”
“…[art enriches] our culture and our heritage by showcasing talented examples of the nation’s best, both commenting on society and capturing the spirit of the time.”
Artist, academic and trustee of the Claire and Edoardo Villa Trust Karel Nel, explains that although Villa never set out to create overtly political work, he had a way of keeping his finger on the pulse of society and making sense of it through the medium of art. “This was the largest and most ambitious piece that he undertook. Villa had this capacity to absorb whatever was happening in the wider socio-political context and translate it into sculptural form. He was extraordinary in that way. Accordingly, Confrontation is a historically significant piece in our national heritage and in Villa’s own oeuvre.”
“Our Corporate collection at RMB is a repository of history and value. It enables us to see a cultural richness across time and is a gift to those who share in it – including our employees and all our clients. But we also see it as our way of preserving our history for the opportunity to learn across boundaries – be they racial, social or historical. It’s in this spirit that we preserve and showcase the legacy of Villa’s work.” said Gert Kruger.
“The heritage of any country or community is made up, at least in part, by art – be it visual or performing art. These creative expressions are a fundamental element of what defines us as individuals or as a nation,” says Carolynne Waterhouse of RMB’s Corporate Marketing team. “They enrich our culture and our heritage by showcasing talented examples of the nation’s best, both commenting on society and capturing the spirit of the time. With this restoration and re-siting project, RMB has ensured that the significance of Confrontation will be enjoyed for a long time.”
Also restored and re-sited on RMB’s THINK Precinct is Villa’s Environmental Sculpture, which was made in 1972, and nicknamed ‘Waves’. In this piece, Villa has used a series of flat and curved planes to create an abstract sculpture very different to Confrontation. It is a tribute in a sense, to our environment and reads very differently from different heights and angles. Stratified layers of steel can be seen as clouds, waves, or a variety of nature’s contours.