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MoMA Presents Major Survey Premiering William Kentridge's Most Recent Work
William Kentridge, Learning the Flute. Letterpress on encyclopedia pages mounted on 110 sheets of paper, overall: 9’ 2 13/16” x 11’ 8 3/8" (281.5 x 356.6 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Patricia P. Irgens Larsen Foundation Fund © 2010 William Kentridge.
NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of Modern Art presents William Kentridge: Five Themes, a comprehensive survey of the artist’s career, featuring more than 120 works in a range of mediums—animated films, drawings, prints, theater models, and books—on view from February 24 to May 17, 2010. Kentridge (South African, b. 1955) has earned international acclaim for his interdisciplinary practice, which mingles the fields of visual art, film, and theater. Known for engaging with the social and political landscape of his homeland, South Africa, he has produced a body of work that explores colonial oppression and social conflict, loss and reconciliation, and the ephemeral nature of both personal and cultural memory. The exhibition underscores the inter-relatedness of his mediums and disciplines through the presentation of five primary themes that cut across Kentridge’s artistic output. William Kentridge: Five Themes, which follows a chronological progression, comprises works created over the last three decades and features new developments, revealing as never before the full arc of his distinguished career.

The exhibition also traces the evolution of Kentridge’s subject matter, from the specific context of apartheid in South Africa to more universal stories and a range of human conditions. In recent years Kentridge’s thematic concerns have expanded to include his own studio practice, the Enlightenment and colonialism, and the cultural history of post-revolutionary Russia. This newer work is based on an intensive exploration of themes connected to Kentridge’s own life experience, as well as the social issues that most concern him. Compared to his earlier work, the new projects are dramatically larger in scope, such as The Nose—a full-scale opera directed and designed by Kentridge, which makes its world premiere at The Metropolitan Opera in March 2010.

William Kentridge: Five Themes was organized by independent curator Mark Rosenthal, in close collaboration with the artist, for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Norton Museum of Art in Florida, two of the venues which presented the exhibition in 2009. It will travel internationally to museums in Paris, Vienna, Jerusalem, Amsterdam, and Vancouver. At MoMA, the exhibition has been expanded, with nearly half of the New York presentation drawn from MoMA’s unparalleled collection of Kentridge’s installations, films, drawings, and prints, several of which were included in the travelling exhibition. An additional 38 prints from the Museum’s collection have also been included in MoMA’s presentation. The exhibition is organized at MoMA by Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA’s Chief Curator-at-Large, and Director of P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center; Judith B. Hecker, Assistant Curator, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books; and Cara Starke, Assistant Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art.

In conjunction with MoMA’s exhibition, the Museum is publishing William Kentridge: Trace. Prints from The Museum of Modern Art, which includes an original essay on the artist’s printmaking by Ms. Hecker, as well as forty pages of new artwork by Kentridge specifically designed for the publication. This publication is in addition to the existing exhibition catalogue, William Kentridge: Five Themes, edited by Mark Rosenthal and produced in close collaboration with the artist.

Among the different creative processes represented in the exhibition are Kentridge’s hand-drawn film animations, which he calls “drawings for projection.” A distinctive technique he began using in the 1990s, the animations comprise charcoal drawings and collages that Kentridge painstakingly creates, reworks, and moves, filming each step along the way, ultimately projecting them as moving images. Movement is generated within the image, by the artist’s hand, with the camera serving merely to record its progression. As such, the animations reveal a tension between material object and time-based performance, uniquely capturing the artist’s process while telling poignant stories.

In his newer films, Kentridge has emphasized elements of live-action performance as well as archival film footage to create works broader in scope. Instead of being projected individually, like his earlier animations, these films are grouped together in installations that fill entire rooms with moving images. The exhibition at MoMA presents all phases of Kentridge’s involvement with film within large galleries, allowing for long, dynamic views of his moving images as well as complete environmental immersion.

MoMA’s exhibition is organized chronologically, focusing on five themes of Kentridge’s career.

“Occasional and Residual Hope: Ubu and the Procession”
In 1975 Kentridge acted in Ubu Rex (an adaptation of Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry’s 1896 satire about a corrupt and cowardly despot), and subsequently devoted a large body of work to the subject. He began the project with a series of eight etchings, collectively entitled Ubu Tells the Truth (1996), and in 1997 he made an animated film of the same name, as well as a number of related drawings. That project culminated in another live theater performance. Together, these works deal with the South African experience, specifically addressing the hearings set up by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995 to bring together victims and perpetrators of apartheid. Other highlights in this section include the film Shadow Procession (1999), in which Kentridge first utilizes techniques of shadow theater and jointed-paper figures; the multi-panel accordion-folded book Portage (2000); and a large charcoal-and-pastel-on-paper work entitled Arc Procession (Smoke, Ashes, Fable) (1990).

MoMA’s installation includes the addition of the nine etchings that comprise Kentridge’s series Zeno at 4 A.M. (2001), which focus attention on the details of figures from a processional march, as well as two monumental linoleum cuts, Walking Man and Telephone Lady (2000), which isolate the actions of marching figures on a grand scale.

“Thick Time: Soho and Felix”
The second section of the exhibition is dedicated to Kentridge’s best-known fictional characters, Soho Eckstein, an industrialist and real estate developer whose troubled conscience reflects certain miens of contemporary South Africa, and his sensitive alter ego, Felix Teitlebaum, who pines for Soho’s wife and often functions as a surrogate for Kentridge himself. The centerpiece of this section, a seminal series entitled 9 Drawings for Projection, comprises nine short animated films: Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris (1989), Monument (1990), Mine (1991), Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old (1991), Felix in Exile (1994), History of the Main Complaint (1996), WEIGHING . . . and WANTING (1998), Stereoscope (1999), and Tide Table (2003). At MoMA, these projections are shown in large format among three distinct galleries. These films, along with a key selection of the drawings from which they are made, follow the lives of Soho and Felix as they struggle to navigate life in Johannesburg during the final decade of apartheid. According to Kentridge, the Soho and Felix films were made without a script or storyboards and are largely about his own process of discovery.

MoMA’s installation is supplemented with materials drawn from MoMA’s collection: the complete portfolio of prints Little Morals (1991) and a large-scale print, Casspirs Full of Love (1989), which amplify moments from the film.

“Parcours d’Atelier: Artist in the Studio”
This section of the exhibition presents a turning point in Kentridge’s work, one in which his own artistic practice became a subject. According to the artist, many of these projects are meant to reflect the “invisible work that must be done” before beginning a drawing, film, or sculpture. This theme is epitomized by the large-scale multi-screen projection 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès (2003), an homage to the early French film director, who, like Kentridge, often combined performance with special effects. The suite of seven films—each depicting Kentridge at work in his studio or interacting with his creations—is accompanied by Journey to the Moon (2003) and Day for Night (2003). A group of drawings on the subject of the artist and model in the studio, and a riveting self-portrait, form an intimate portrayal of the artist’s working process.

“Sarastro and the Master’s Voice: The Magic Flute”
The fourth section comprises Kentridge’s model theaters, a film projection, and a selection of drawings and prints inspired by his 2005 production of the Mozart opera The Magic Flute for La Monnaie, the leading opera house in Belgium. The artist’s film projection on a blackboard structure, Learning the Flute (2003), which started the Flute project, shifts between images of black charcoal drawings on white paper and white chalk drawings projected onto a blackboard, forming a meditation on darkness and light that relates to the opera’s main theme of the Enlightenment. Similarly, the grand print—presented exclusively at MoMA and also entitled Learning the Flute (2003)—explores concepts from the opera within a composition that mimics the space of a theater. The model theater Preparing the Flute (2005) was created as a large-scale maquette for testing the projections central to the final set design of the opera. A second model theater, Black Box/Chambre Noire (2006), addresses the opera’s theme of Enlightenment and the dangers of achieving rationalism, as embodied by colonialism in Africa. Each of the three projections is shown sequentially in the gallery space, with the overhead lights dimming during each performance. Once the full cycle concludes, the gallery lights return for a period of time, allowing visitors to view the related drawings installed on the surrounding walls.

“Learning from the Absurd: The Nose”
The final section features a series of projected films and prints made in preparation for Kentridge’s staging and production of The Nose, which will make its debut at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City on March 5, 2010. The Nose—a 1930 Dmitri Shostakovich opera based on Nikolai Gogol’s absurdist short story of 1836—concerns a Russian official whose nose disappears from his face, only to turn up, in uniform, as a higher-ranking official moving in more respected circles. Kentridge’s room-size installation of projected films, I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008), uses Gogol’s story as the basis for examining the Russian avant-garde in the 1920s and 1930s, and its tragic suppression. This section also presents prints from the Museum’s collection—on view for the first time at MoMA—that relate to Kentridge’s development of The Nose.

The Museum of Modern Art | William Kentridge | South Africa |


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