William Kentridge / Notes Towards a Model Opera / 2016

William Kentridge 21 January - 12 February 2016 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
21 January – 12 February 2016 at 12PM

In 2016, Goodman Gallery celebrates its 50th anniversary – five decades of shaping contemporary art and working with artists who challenge unequal power structures and affect social change. Through global dialogue and exchange, Goodman Gallery has placed common histories at its core and has been instrumental in shifting perspectives through contemporary art. The year begins with an exhibition of significant recent work by William Kentridge, who has been represented by Goodman Gallery since 1989.

Kentridge’s most recent film Notes Towards a Model Opera is the centre-piece of his first retrospective in China – which premiered at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing and is currently showing at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul – and this month it will be exhibited at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg.

As a titular piece, Notes Towards a Model Opera is rooted in extensive research into the intellectual, political, and social history of modern China, from Lu Xun to revolutionary theatre, which Kentridge undertook in preparation for the Asian retrospective. This three-channel projection explores dynamics of cultural diffusion and metamorphosis through the formal prism of the eight model operas of the Cultural Revolution.

The work considers these didactic ballets both as a cultural phenomenon unto itself and as part of a history of dance that spans continents and centuries. Starting from its origins in Paris, Kentridge playfully overlays the aesthetic and ideological transformations of ballet as it is transplanted across the globe, an arch of influence juxtaposing contexts as disparate as Moscow, Shanghai, and the artist’s native Johannesburg.

In addition to the main film installation, the exhibition includes a series of ink drawings on found paper and cut-out silhouettes in steel. As well as portraits of key figures within both the Cultural Revolution in China and the struggle for independence on the African continent, the drawings merge seemingly benign images of flowers with text sourced from Chinese parables, Tang Dynasty poetry and Maoist slogans. These drawings emerged out of the research Kentridge conducted for the China retrospective and they recall and reference the contradictions within periods of revolutionary fervour, touching on both the radical socialist and revolutionary government of the Paris Commune in 1871 and Mao Zedong’s turbulent three decades in power, during which he embraced and redefined political sloganeering, often alluding to Chinese verse.

The exhibition as a whole is informed by a transcript of Kentridge’s lecture ‘Peripheral Thinking’, originally delivered at the opening of his retrospective in Beijing in June 2015. About the process he says, “China certainly hovers over us like a huge zeppelin. The scale of it, the scale of its hunger for resources, the scale of everything. China in Africa today, a sense of a series of questions rather than any answers. Are we here the tethered goat waiting for the tiger? Easy pickings?

“The project began with an invitation to show a selection of my work in a museum in Beijing. Curiosity, flattery are part of the equation. What is it in my work that would interest people there? I wanted both to find a link to it and to make a work that would refer to this question. Drawing, film, performance, posters, sculptures – all was possible, everything was open. The project began as many do with a distracted reading and looking. I read the books of Lu Xun, a modernist whose sensibility placed him with Japanese writer Aktagawa and European writers in the tradition of the absurd modern like Gogol and Kafka. Books of revolutionary posters. Here the language pulled me in, the exhortations, the instructions, the clamour of incredible and unstoppable enthusiasm.”

William Kentridge’s recent achievements have included premieres of major new projects: More Sweetly Play the Dance; his production of Alban Berg’s opera Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, as well as being included on the 14th Istanbul Biennale with his film work O Sentimental Machine. In addition he has enjoyed retrospectives in Asia and in Latin America with the exhibition Fortuna having multi city tour over three and a half years, concluding recently at Museo Amparo in Mexico. The year 2015 saw the South African premiere of his acclaimed installation Refusal of Time at the Johannesburg art Gallery and the same installation at the Iziko South African National Gallery. In November 2015 Kentridge was named as part of the ‘Power 100’ people working in the art world today by the influential Art Review magazine.



William Kentridge

William Kentridge’s artist website can be visited here and Instagram account here

William Kentridge was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1955. Kentridge’s artistic practice, expressionist in nature, is entirely underpinned by drawing. He is perhaps best known for his series of eleven animated films, Drawings for Projection, the earliest of which was completed in 1989 and the most recent of which will premiere in 2020. These hand-drawn films follow the narrative of fictional mining magnate, Soho Eckstein, his wife and her lover, Felix Teitlebaum. This saga is permeated with anecdotal elements from Kentridge’s own life and the political events, which unfolded in South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy.

In addition to being an accomplished printmaker in his own right, Kentridge’s openness to collaboration has allowed him to produce rich and extensive series of kinetic sculptures, bronzes and hand-woven tapestries. His passion for the theatre has brought him to work, as creative director, on several acclaimed opera productions ranging from Mozart’s Magic Flute , to The Nose by Shostakovich (2010) and most recently two operas by Alban Berg, Lulu (2015) and Wozzeck (2017). Kentridge has also created a number of original performance pieces including Refuse the Hour (2012); Triumphs & Laments (2017) on the Tiber river in Rome; The Head & the Load (2018) and most recently, the chamber opera, Sibyl (2019).

Kentridge’s career has spanned five decades and his work has been shown in major museums and biennales, around the world since the 1990s, including Documenta in Kassel, Germany (1997, 2003, 2012), the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1998, 2010) and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2012), Musée du Louvre in Paris (2010), FORTUNA in Brazil (2013), Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in China (2015), Whitechapel Gallery in London (2016), Louisiana Museum in Denmark (2017), Reina Sofia Museum in Spain (2017), Liebieghaus Museum in Germany (2018), Kunstmuseum Basel (2019), Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town (2019), and most recently MUDAM in Luxembourg (2021).

Kentridge is the recipient of honorary doctorates from several universities including Yale and the University of London. In 2012 he presented the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard University. In 2013 he served as Humanitas Visiting Professor in Contemporary Art at Oxford University, and Distinguished Visiting Humanist at the University of Rochester, New York, and in 2015 he was appointed an Honorary Academician of the Royal Academy in London. In 2017 he received the Princesa de Asturias Award for the Arts, Spain, and in 2018, the Antonio Feltrinelli International Prize, Italy. Previous awards include the Kyoto Prize, Japan (2010), the Oskar Kokoschka Award, Vienna (2008), the Kaiserring Prize (2003), and the Sharjah Biennial 6 Prize (2003), among many others.

Kentridge is currently working towards major survey exhibitions at The Royal Academy in London for 2022, and The Broad Museum in Los Angeles.