For the next couple of weeks, an exhibition of work by William Kentridge is showing at Australian Galleries in Melbourne – and I highly recommend it. If you are familiar with his art, you’ll know what to expect; but if the name is new to you, then hopefully you will be curious enough to give it a go. Kentridge is both prolific, and proficient, across many media – this current exhibition includes prints, drawings, sculptures, tapestries and films.
I think I first became aware of Kentridge’s work via his multimedia installation, “What Will Come (has already come)” when it was shown at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt in 2007. Thanks to his distinctive style and use of recurring motifs, once you see one of his prints or drawings, you can easily recognise other pieces by him. Using a graphic-based visual language and free-flowing lines in his mark-making, he also incorporates polemic and performance into his work. In addition to his stage design and production, his films and stop-motion animations portray the artist as actor, literally sketching out his lines across paper, wall and screen. Images of coffee pots, oil rigs, megaphones, tripods and windmills feature in many of his works, and he is also drawn to three key texts: Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu Roi”, and Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose”.
Since that first encounter in 2007, I have been fortunate to see a few of Kentridge’s key exhibitions, most notably “Five Themes” (2010) at MoMA, New York (which later came to ACMI, Melbourne), and “Thick Time” (2016) at Whitechapel Gallery, London (and later at The Whitworth, Manchester). I also hope to see his major retrospective at London’s Royal Academy later this year.
All of which makes this exhibition at Australian Galleries a remarkable achievement for a local commercial space. If there is one piece that could sum up Kentridge’s artistic CV, it would have to be “Black Box/Chambre Noire” (2005) – this YouTube video does a pretty good job, but you need to see this mix of installation, automata, video, sculpture and audio in the flesh to appreciate the full effect. Luckily, there is a related video, “Preparing the Flute” (2004), based on a similar installation work, in the current show in Melbourne.
Next week: Lightscape