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A rare discovery of a David Brown Sculpture

By Andries Loots  30 July 2000

The last week saw the brief meeting of two " women " from very different backgrounds at the house of international renowned Cape Town artist Willie Bester.

While Willie and his invited guests were unveiling his latest sculpture titled 'Saartje Baartman' at his studio on Friday, 7 July 2000, another sculpture of a grotesque woman figure was keeping a watchful eye from his garden. 

Willie bought this huge bronze figure from a scrap yard,  SA Metal,  after recognizing it as a work by artist David Brown. After a telephone conversation between Willie and David, it was found that the figure originally came from a Public Commission entitled " Tightroping " which originally stood in front of the Johannesburg Art Museum and which was stolen in 1996.

The two sculptures stood side by side for a short while and then the Brown sculpture was returned to David's studio for some restoration before it would be send back to the Museum. It is still an unsolved mystery as to how anybody could steal a sculpture of about 750kg from a fixed installation and then bring it down 1500km to the Cape to dump it in a scrap yard were it has been for the last few years.   ( In 1999 the Museum commissioned David to redo the sculpture but only when funds became available.)
David Brown worked in the most difficult time in the history of South Africa when artists were excluded from the rest of the world by sanctions and boycotts and if he had the same opportunities of the new artists of today he could have been what Henry Moore had been for the UK to his own country. An everlasting influence in his work came from his experiences at his first studio in Canterbury Street in District Six. During this time the people were still forcefully  removed and through his window he would see policemen in camouflage uniforms arriving in armored vehicles to do their " job ".   
Voyage I & II,  1988 David Brown was born in 1951  and studied art at the famous Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town. In 1975 he was introduced to sculpture by his now father in law, the famous artist Cecil Skotnes. David had his first solo-exhibition called, " Dogs of War ", in 1980 at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. In 1985 he again showed an exhibition called " The Procession " with the Goodman Gallery and then had the opportunity to show his work at the Basel Art Fair in Switzerland. It was during this year that he was commissioned to do the work " Tightroping " for the Johannesburg Art Museum. His most prestigious and ambitious exhibition called,  " Dogwatch ",  however was held in 1993 at the Goodman Gallery. This was also the last time he had a showing with the Goodman Gallery. 
In 1994 he did a major commission called " Dialogue at the Dogwatch " for Hennerton House Estate in the English countryside. This work took David two years to complete and covered 30m x 11m x 6.5meter . The bench on top gives a clear view of the Thames river flowing past in the distance. In 1997 he had an exhibition called " Thomas and the Bone Yard " at the Sasol Museum in Stellenbosch.        Dialogue at Dogwatch, 1995