3rd Sep, 2020 20:00

Modern & Contemporary Art

Lot 148
Lot 148 - Edoardo Villa (South Africa 1915–2011)


Edoardo Villa (South Africa 1915–2011)

shaped steel plates, painted and mounted on a base with castors

Artwork date: 1957

Sold for R4,893,400
Estimated at R2,000,000 - R3,000,000


shaped steel plates, painted and mounted on a base with castors

Artwork date: 1957


98 x 42 x 562.5 cm


1957 was an extraordinary year for Edoardo Villa. He was selected to represent South Africa at the São Paulo Biennale in Brazil where he received an Honourable Mention. In addition, his work was included in an exhibition of South African Art that toured several cities in the USA and in a group show at the Helen de Leeuw Gallery in Johannesburg.Traverse is one of the largest works this Italian-born sculptor ever produced. It is exceeded in size by Africa (1959–1960), measuring 6.7 metres, originally commissioned for the Union Pavilion at Milner Park in Johannesburg and recently included in the ground-breaking exhibition, Re/discovery and Memory, at the Norval Foundation; and The Knot (1981), measuring 6.75 metres in height, commissioned for the Foreshore, Cape Town.Recognising how Villa’s bold sculptures would complement the built environment of the rapidly growing city of Johannesburg, Monty Sack, the celebrated modernist architect, commissioned this impressive work for the original Carlton Hotel complex.Remarkably, Traverse was produced two years before his monumental Africa. Like Africa, it is a welded piece constructed from a series of intersecting flat and curved planes of steel. The same method was employed two years later in one of Villa’s most important early works, Black Construction (1959)[i].Professor John Fassler, former Chair of Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand, in a 1961 article for Lantern, praised Traverse’s appropriate relationship to its context and described it’s “intricate composition using thin, shaped, steel plates”.To traverse is to advance across or pass through a space. It suggests movement – the antithesis of stasis. Traverse also implies navigating new terrain or negotiating space. Villa’s ground-breaking sculpture invites us to consider his radical departure from the conventions of sculpture in his navigation of inventive forms made possible through new materials.Breaking away from the labour intensive processes of conventional clay modelling and bronze casting, Villa was quick to see the potential of working directly with steel and the innovations it made possible. His vigorous use of this new material enabled the bold forms and spiky shapes with which he forged a new aesthetic, referencing both the stark African landscape and art from this continent. In addition, his use of welded metal associated him with avant-garde, modernist sculptors such as Picasso, Julio Gonzales and David Smith.Breath-taking scale and significant physical presence could be achieved through the sculptor’s innovative use of steel and new construction methods, paving the way for the evolution of Villa’s unique sculptural vision.Steel provided Villa with the potential for large scale works which complemented the growing development of local urban architecture. And, in so doing, he celebrated the innovations made possible by the rapidly growing local steel industry. According to Karel Nel, “Villa’s use of steel is also symbolic in that it is a modern material, the product of a massive industry which played a direct role in the development of the economy of Johannesburg – and of his adopted home country”.

Emma Bedford


[i] Black Construction [Vertical Composition], also from the Monty Sack collection, was sold by Aspire Art Auctions in March 2017.

[ii] Fassler, J. (1961). ‘Edoardo Villa’ in Lantern, Pretoria: Foundation for Education, Science and Technology, vol 10, no 3, March, p. 248.

[iii] Nel, K. in Burroughs, E. and Nel, K. (2018). Re/discovery and Memory. Cape Town: Norval Publications, p. 76.

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Auction: Modern & Contemporary Art, 3rd Sep, 2020

This Spring, Aspire Art Auctions broke new ground with a fresh, yet considered selection of artworks that is demographically more representative and reflects the spirit of current times. With a strong focus on South Africa, the sale also proudly represented artists from 10 African countries (Benin, DRC, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sudan, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe) and international artists from Europe, the UK and USA. 

A great highlight was Edoardo Villa’s monumental steel sculpture titled Traverse from 1957 which achieved R4,893,400 – an auction record for the artist. Other exceptional offerings included works by Gerard Sekoto, George Pemba, Peter Clarke and Nicholas Hlobo.

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