Johannesburg based artist William Kentridge is back in London with a comprehensive show at Marian Goodman Gallery – truely impressive with two immersive multiscreen film installations, monumental ink-on-paper paintings, sculptures and drawings.
Centerpiece of the exhibition is „More Sweetly Play the Dance“, an eight-screen processionary danse macabre. But, beyond the medieval notion of dancing as a means of staving off death, as this 40 metre, life-sized, circular caravan traverses around us, one senses that it’s as much a cortege of those who have been deprived of a fully realised life – yet another procession of refugees fleeing a skirmish or warlord. ‘My concern has been both with the existential solitude of the walker, and with social solitude – lines of people walking in single file from one country to another, from one life to an unknown future’. William Kentridge, A Dream of Love Reciprocated, 2014
Most of the itinerants are filmed holding up silhouettes transcribed from enlarged Kentridge drawings as they march: a group of priests sway past bearing a forest of lilies; patients cling to drips with sketched saline solutions barely keeping them alive; robed shadow-figures who recall pre-Quattrocento frescos hold giant classical busts, propagandist portraits, bird cages and miners’ heads; and a trio of skeletons dance on a platform dragged across the artist’s barren, charcoal-drawn landscape.
„Notes Towards a Model Opera“, a three-screen film installation that grew from his research for a recent exhibition at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. The music and soundtrack for the piece is by Philip Miller, another long-time collaborator, and it was while working on it together that Kentridge found himself repeatedly drawn to Madame Mao’s Eight Model Revolutionary Operas, which conflated vainglorious folklore, jingoistic re-presentations of military victories, martial arts and ballet.
The main gallery downstairs is dominated by a new series of paintings in which generations of Chinese cultural artifacts, such as parables, Tang dynasty poetry and adapted Cultural Revolution slogans are interwoven throughout vast ink-on-found-text images of flowers. Beyond Mao’s now infamous ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend’ dictum, these are premised on links between the Cultural Revolution, the events of May 1968 and the Paris Commune of 1871.
An adjacent room is bisected by two groups of painted bronze heads that originated through research for Kentridge’s production of Alban Berg’s opera ‘Lulu’. He placed cardboard cylinders over the actors’ heads, painting them with rudimentary features and creating simple masks that served as devices halfway between them and the drawings projected around them. What began as a formal investigation into how little is needed to recognise a head became adroitly bricolaged sets of five ‘Polychrome Heads’ and three ‘Roman Heads’.
WILLIAM KENTRIDGE More Seetly Play The Dance 11 SEP – 24 OCT Marian Goodman Gallery www.mariangoodman.com