William Kentridge
Five Themes

March 4, 2011-July 30, 2011

Location: Bella and Harry Wexner Gallery

Artist: William Kentridge

Curator: Mark Rosenthal, adjunct curator of modern art at the Norton Museum of Art

Media: Drawing, film, collage, printmaking, sculpture, and stage design

William Kentridge: Five Themes is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Norton Museum of Art. Generous support for the exhibition is provided by the Koret Foundation. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Israel Museum presentation is made possible by The Sam Weisbord Trust, Beverly Hills, The Kirsch Foundation, South Africa. Donors to the Museum's 2011 Exhibition Fund: Ruth and Leon Davidoff, Mexico City and New York Hanno D. Mott, New York, the Nash Family Foundation, New York. The South African artist William Kentridge first achieved international recognition in the 1990s with a series of what he called "drawings for projection": short animated films portraying daily life under apartheid. In his post-apartheid career, which is the focus of this survey, Kentridge has enlarged the thematic range of his work, expanding beyond his immediate locale to examine other political conflicts. His oeuvre charts a universal history of war and revolution, evoking the complexities and tensions of postcolonial memory and imaging the residual traces of devastating policies and regimes. In contrast to traditional political art, Kentridge's work emphasizes nuance, exploring the ambivalent and often contradictory dynamic between perpetrators, bystanders, and victims. The majority of the projects gathered here were completed since 2000. Together they highlight Kentridge's broad artistic practice in a variety of media, including drawing, film, collage, printmaking, sculpture, and stage design. His longstanding interest in theater – nurtured in Johannesburg in the 1970s, when he co-founded the Junction Avenue Theatre Company, and invigorated by his more recent collaborations with the Handspring Puppet Company – has informed the dramatic character of his art. He remains one of the few figures to successfully bridge the fields of visual art, film, and theater. Instead of simply alternating these artistic means, he moves freely between them, shifting from theater to drawing or from drawing to film. Though his work resonates with the South African experience, Kentridge draws on varied sources, including European literature, opera, plays, and early cinema, to assemble the cast of archetypal characters that populate his artistic narratives. These figures embody and dramatize a complex universe where good and evil are complementary and inseparable forces.

An important conceptual development in Kentridge's practice of recent years is the artist's self-reflexive yet playful focus on his relationship to the world. Whereas the early charcoal animations operated with a cast of fictional characters, Kentridge himself now appears as a character – the draftsman and cinematic auteur – in his own creations. Larger in scope and more varied in form, his latest productions continue to explore unscripted passages and transitions, whether between the camera and the drawing or between actors and their projected images. At the same time, by referencing optical illusion and the mechanics of perception, Kentridge moves beyond the manipulations of animation, emphasizing a conception of the world as a theater of memory.