Kapwani Kiwanga
Walter Oltmann: Metamorphosis


16 November 2023 – 19 November 2024


Oltmann’s sculptures seem to transcend the terrestrial and evoke a cosmic and eternal quality that defies the ephemeral nature of both insect and human existence. Within this intersection, Oltmann’s work contemplates the passage of time, weaving the impermanent into immortality.

These sculptural works jet black, steel grey and gold shimmer with intricate detail, myriads of filaments complex puckering like pupae segments characterize the works. The magical patterning of the surfaces are carefully constructed by meticulous weaving. Oltmann handcrafts each piece by entwining anodized and painted aluminum wire, brass rods, and plastic beads to produce these remarkable, surreal figures.

The sculptures’ exoskeletons assume an armor-like quality, akin to the ancient Chinese burial suits renowned for their hand-crafted panels wrought from precious metals. In this surreal assembly, there is an insinuation of transformation and metamorphosis, perhaps an intimation of our future selves.

Oltmann’s interest in the weaving traditions in Africa and the West are reflected in the highly-skilled weaving technique he employs.

These entities evoke an almost human resonance yet are also reminiscent of both spiky plants and insects. Their materiality introduces a dialectical tension, as these natural forms are gilded and elevated to a state of monumental grandeur.

Everything reveals itself in time, metamorphoses is the act of becoming and transformation, from egg to pupae to moth or beetle, from embryo to fetus, to child, to ball gown and dress suit, to coffin. Oltmann’s work celebrates this magical and seamless transformation in the world. The shifts of scale in the works plays with our perceptions, a bit like Alice in Wonderland, overwhelmed by the scale of some and enchanted by the smallness of others. They bristle with beauty or stand quietly in the sheer presence of their dark and mysterious symmetry.

In the Atrium, Walter Oltmann’s sculptures assume monumental proportions, and stand as towering, ornamented figures. In their display, these works query what we consider to be a monument, while their display against the sculpture garden serves as a reminder of our own ecological fragility and impermanence.

Walter Oltmann received the Claire & Edoardo Villa Will Trust’s Extraordinary Award for Sculpture for 2022, enabling him to produce an extensive body of work, undertaken in the Villa Legodi workshop at NIROX Sculpture Park where the works were also publicly shown.

Metamorphosis is curated by Karel Nel and Ally Martinez.

Thanks go to Walter Oltmann, in particular for exploring the challenge of exhibiting these pieces in a monumental manner. Thanks also go to Niel Dundas and Goodman Gallery as well as Sven Christian at NIROX, as well as the Norval Family and the Norval Foundation’s team for their support in the production of this exhibition.