Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kentridge at SF MOMA

Deliberately primitive, hand drawn animated films, multiscreen installations, charcoal drawings - all desolate and melancholy reminders (do we need reminding) of the tragedies of our time. He looks at apartheid, AIDS, totalitarian governments - the nightmares of our generation and tries to hang onto hope. Aeschylus said it better in the Eumendies:And the brutal strife,
the civil war devouring men, I pray
that it never rages through our city, no
that the good Greek soil never drinks the blood of Greeks.
shed in an orgy of reprisal life for life -
that fury like a beast will never
rampage through the land.
Give joy in return for joy

But what do you do when the world breaks your heart?

In his review of the show, Lacayo wrote:

"He's attracted to it and deeply suspicious of it all the same. It's a reason he's been preoccupied lately by the brief heyday of the Soviet avant-garde in the years right after the October Revolution, before Stalin put his very big foot down and imposed the rule of socialist orthodoxy in all artistic realms. A short episode of utopianism that ended in its own flood of blue tears, those years seem to epitomize for him the absurdity and paradox of politics.

Kentridge has borrowed from the imagery of that avant-garde, the ecstatic and utopian imagery of Vladimir Tatlin and Kazimir Malevich, for a production of The Nose--Shostakovich's 1930 opera based on the Gogol story about a Russian bureaucrat who awakens one morning to discover that his nose has left his body and begun to pursue its own career up the social hierarchy...The nose climbs a ladder in silhouette (and tumbles down); a Cossack dances. On another screen are abject snippets from the 1937 trial transcript of Nikolai Bukharin, one of the multitude of old Bolshevik leaders devoured by Stalin. It's too soon to know how Kentridge will connect all this into a coherent production. But there won't be a diamond-crusted skull or a mirror-steel bling thing anywhere near it. That you can count on."

Memory and regrets, shame and guilt, betrayal and loss -- these are the primary issues in Kentridge's films, played out against a backdrop of political revolution. I appreciated the lack of bling but as I exited into the sunny but cold and windy SF day, I wondered at how much melancholy and sadness the human soul can take before it retreats into permanent depression or flees toward frivolity and fun. Sometimes the weight of the world is too much; that's the way I felt after seeing this show. I wonder, as I always do, what effect the artist's vision will have on those who see it - will they understand more, will they examine more, will they feel more? If the artist's duty is to bear witness through his art, what then is our duty? Where do we go from here?,9171,1886548,00.html
Review by Anna Conti at BAAQ:
Arschylus, The Oresteia (Penguin Classics, 1977).
images from Time website


Sheree Rensel said...

I just love it when this happens. It happens to me so often, I just smile and giggle. Today I have been writing a post about my new art aspirations and I spoke of getting back down to business. I have to get back to doing work that is important to my heart and brain. Focusing on societal issues is my niche. I let it go for a while because it can be dangerous territory for many reasons.
I am so glad you wrote here about Kentridge. I have seen some of his work. In fact just recently, I was watching one of his primitive, but glorious animations and wondered why I haven't expressed my art via this media. I love making videos, yet it just never occurred to me to use it art wise. I think it is because I have always steered clear of anything technical when I make my art. This is why I don't do printmaking or photography.

Ironically, I was introduced to the work of Kentridge via YouTube. There are many of his animations there. I just love and appreciate the brass tacks quality of his animations. They aren't slick and fancy. They are just there and the hand of the artist is so apparent. I love it. I want to do this too! Maybe I will.

Thanks for reminding me of him. Too bad I am not over on the west coast. I would run to that SF exhibition!

Here is a link to one of many Kentridge videos on YouTube:

namastenancy said...

Thanks for the tip; I've posted even more links to Kentridge videos on uTube. I'm grateful for the opportunity to watch them in peace. The show at the museum is so overwhelming that I couldn't take it all in.

Liz Hager said...

I too left the Kentridge show in utter sensory overload. This man has an incredibly fertile imagination, with a multiplicity of references that goes broad and deep. I realized that it would take a few more viewings to get through the many layers of meaning in his work to a place where I could write about the show with some emotional authority. If all we had were the drawings that would have been fine; at least we'd know what an incredible draftsman he is. But the films and theater are so mindbogglingly creative. . . I could have spent the entire day in either of those rooms, mesmerized. I am kicking myself for not trying to get tickets to recent the Monteverdi/Kentridge"Return of Ulysses" at Theatre Artaud, alas it was only there for 4 days.

Anyway thanks for starting the conversation on this fantastic show. And as for the question of whether a white artist can do justice to apartheid, I think why not? Every artists brings his/her own experiences and temperament to a subject. I only hope this encourages others, be they black, white or brown, to come forth with their "interpretations."

Liz Hager
Venetian Red