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William Kentridge: Five Themes

April 27, 2010

South African artist William Kentridge is best known for his animated films, he currently has a large-scale exhibition which features several of his films – as well as many of the drawings created to make them – at the MoMA.  For those of you unfamiliar with his work, please allow me the singular honor of this introduction:  Mr. Kentridge’s Artwork, You.  You, Mr. Kentridge’s Artwork.

The animation process used in his pieces consist of the artist meticulously filming a successive charcoal drawing on the same sheet of paper while it is erased and altered, leaving traces of the original image as it evolves.  The results of this technique are haunting, beautiful and extremely effective – particularly given the subject matter of his work, which deals with apartheid, colonialism and social injustice.  William Kentridge is an incredible draughtsman, his drawings – which are often displayed along with his films – manage to walk the  line between fine detail and gestural expression.  There is an immediacy and energy to his work that I find completely engrossing – even in the static, resulting drawings.  Mr. Kentridge uses color economically – a pop of blue or red here or there – an artistic decision that gives significance to particular objects or scenes.

This exhibition covers several decades of the artist’s work and is one of the best shows I have seen in some time – not only because the work itself is good (and it is) but also because the presentation of  it is thoughtful and sensitive to the strengths of the pieces.   His drawings are beautifully lit and are given enough space for the viewer to really engage with them.  Likewise, his films are shown in darkened, individual rooms – a detail which gives the viewer the feeling of intimacy with the work.  My favorite part of the exhibition was the room that you pass through at the end of the show, which featured a large, theatrical stage built to showcase a specific film.  Drawings that correlate with the film hang along the walls of the room and are dramatically lit in the darkened space – the effect is quite powerful, creating an atmosphere which conveyed a hushed reverence for the work.  Well-played, Curators of MoMA.

William Kentridge: Five Themes runs through May 17, 2010.  For more information, visit the site here.



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