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Kentridge, William Josephfree

South African, 20th–21st century, male.

Born 28 April 1955, in Johannesburg.

Draughtsman, engraver, graphic designer, film producer, sculptor, theatre and opera designer and producer. Multimedia, animated films.

Land Art.

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Although William Kentridge has practised his creativity in many domains and in a wide range of media (animated films, land art, sculpture, printmaking, theatre and opera design and production, installations), it is chiefly his large-scale charcoal drawings in process (drawing for animation) and his unique, short, animated films and their projection that have given him international fame.

William Kentridge studied at King Edward VII School in Johannesburg and from 1973 to 1976 at the University of Witwatersrand, where he received a degree in political science and African studies. From 1976 to 1978, he studied at the Johannesburg Art Foundation under the direction of the painter Bill Ainslie. From 1978 to 1980, Kentridge taught printmaking at the Johannesburg Art Foundation and in 1981–1982 studied mime and drama at the École Jacques Lecocq in Paris. He worked as an artistic director for television and in 1988 became one of the founders of the Free Filmakers Co-operative in Johannesburg. He was a member of the Junction Avenue Theatre Company, Johannesburg, in the 1970s and 1980s and has worked as a theatre director and opera designer and producer. Kentridge has received many awards, including the Carnegie Prize in 1999 and the prestigious Japanese Kyoto prize in the category of arts and philosophy in 2010. He lives and works in Johannesburg.

In 1989, Kentridge made his first film in the Soho Eckstein/Felix Teitlebaum series, in which two contrasting but physically identical individuals confront their destinies. One is a corrupt capitalist industrialist and the other a poet in love with Mrs Eckstein. In 1992, he created his first theatre play, Woyzeck on the Highveld, in association with the Handspring Puppet Company, which also worked with him on Monteverdi’s opera Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in 1998. His multimedia oratorio Zeno at 4 am is a synthesis of animation, puppet theatre and shadow theatre to a composition by Kevin Volans. Kentridge takes his inspiration from the character of Zeno created by Italo Svevo and addresses the history of apartheid combined with his own personal history. In 2005, his production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute premiered at La Monnaie, in Brussels, and his production of Shostakovich’s comic opera The Nose, premiered at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2013.

Kentridge uses charcoal and pastel drawings as a storyboard when directing theatre and assembles them to create films. His method is not to add drawings but to erase them as the narrative sequences progress. This accentuates the theme of disappearance and personal deprivation, already present in his work which is a poetic satire on South African society and the world of capitalism. His drawing style is powerful and expressive, his use of colour very restrained with landscape playing the role of ‘metaphor of memory and oblivion’.

Kentridge has also produced Land Art, including Memory and Geography, 1995, on which he collaborated with Doris Bloom. In this piece he combined the metaphor of the living social body with the theme of liberation in the very land that produced the oppression of apartheid. The land thus becomes a symbol of history (artistic and political) and of transition to a new and liberated modernity.

More recent work involves large-format etchings, installations, theatrical collaborations and sculpture – for example, processions of figures for casting in bronze and Johannesburg’s monumental Fire Walker, created in collaboration with Gerhard Marxin in 2009. His multimedia installation, The Refusal of Time, had its US premiere at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2013.

Group Exhibitions

1994, Contemporary Art of South Africa (Un Art contemporain d’Afrique du Sud), Galerie de l’Esplanade, La Défense, Paris

1995, Johannesburg Biennale (with Memory and Geography)

1997, Documenta X, Kassel

1997, Havana Biennale

2002, Moving Pictures, Guggenheim Museum, New York (an exhibition exploring the use of photography, film and video in art since the late 1960s)

2003, Apparition: the Action of Appearing, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2004, Musée de Valence

2008, Momentary Momentum, Animated Drawings, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2008, Black Eyes, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (an exhibition exploring the role of traditional shadow plays in contemporary art)

2009, Medals of Dishonour, British Museum, London

2010, The Artist Studio; Inside Out, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

2011, Alias, Contemporary Art Museum, Krakow

2012, Documenta XIII, Kassel

2013, Makers in Print, Southern Graphic International Conference, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (international printmaking exhibition)

Solo Exhibitions

1998, Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels; Kunstverein, Munich; Museu d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona; Serpentine Gallery, London; Centre de la Vieille Charité, Marseilles; Neue Galerie Graz, Landesmuseum Joanneuum, Austria

1999, Galerie Marian Goodman, Paris

2000, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London

2001, New Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Los Angeles County Museum; South African National Gallery, Cape Town

2002, William Kentridge: Felix in Exile, Sprengel Museum, Hanover

2002, William Kentridge Retrospective, South African National Gallery, Cape Town

2004, Castello di Rivoli, Turin

2004, K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westphalia, Düsseldorf

2005, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin

2006, William Kentridge: Black Box/Chambre Noire, Museum der Moderne Salzburg-Rupertinum

2007, William Kentridge: What Will Come..., Städel Museum, Frankfurt

2008, I Am Not Me; The Horse Is Not Mine, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town

2009–2010, Five Themes, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Museum of Modern Art, New York

2010, Carnets d’Egypte, Museum du Louvre, Paris

2010, What We See and What We Know, Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan

2011, Cite-du Livre, Aix-en-Provence

2012, William Kentridge as Printmaker, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Tate Modern, London; various UK galleries and museums (Liverpool, Birmingham, Derby, Newcastle)

2013, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

2013–2014, The Refusal of Time, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Bremen (Kunsthalle): Eye-to-Eye (1994, mixed media on paper)

Durban (AG): Miners in Tunnel (1991, charcoal on paper)

Johannesburg (AG): Crowd and Covered Monument 1 (1990, charcoal on paper)

London (Tate Collection): Arc/Procession: Develop, Catch Up, Even Surpass (1990, charcoal and pastel/paper)

New York (MoMA): Soho Leaking (1999, charcoal and pastel on paper)

New York (Solomon R. Guggenheim Mus.): History of the Main Complaint (1996, animation film); Felix in Exile (1994, animation film)

San Diego (MCA Downtown): Industrial Landscape (1997–1998); Soho with Head on Rock (1997–1998); Soho Holding Cup and Stone to Ear (1997–1998, charcoal and pastel on paper)

Washington, DC (Hirshhorn Mus. and Sculpture Garden): Blue Head (1993–1998, aquatint, drypoint and etching/paper); Drawing from ‘Stereoscope’ (1999, charcoal and pastel/paper); Reeds (1996, etching, aquatint, drypoint and hand coloring/paper)

Auction Records

New York, 16 Nov 1999: Johannesburg – Second Greatest City after Paris (1998, video, 8 × 4¾ × 1¼ ins/20.4 × 12.1 × 3.2 cm) USD 17,250

Johannesburg, 6 Nov 2000: Seated Women in an Urban Landscape (1987, watercolour and pastel, 35¼ × 24¼ ins/89.5 × 61.5 cm) ZAR 63,800

New York, 13 Nov 2000: Felix in Exile – History of the Main Complaint (1994, video) USD 101,500

Johannesburg, 7 May 2001: Head of a Woman (etching and aquatint, 40¼ × 30¾ ins/102 × 78 cm) ZAR 74,800

New York, 17 May 2001: Johannesburg – Second Greatest City after Paris (1989–1991, video) USD 149,000

New York, 13 May 2002: Shadow Procession (1999, video) USD 129,000

New York, 12 Nov 2002: Mine Shaft (1991, charcoal and chalk, 93 × 29 ins/236.2 × 73.7 cm) USD 41,825

London, 7 Feb 2003: Untitled (Self-portrait) (1992, charcoal and pastel, 22 × 22 ins/56 × 56 cm) GBP 6,000

New York, 14 Nov 2003: Collage Procession (2000, work on paper, 11½ × 32¼ ins/29.2 × 81.9 cm) USD 17,925

New York, 14 May 2004: Bicycle Man (1998, gouache and charcoal, 63 × 43½ ins/160.7 × 110.5 cm) USD 57,600

Johannesburg, 31 May 2004: Iris (1991, mixed media and collage, 14 × 20½ ins/35.5 × 52.1 cm) ZAR 198,000

London, 24 June 2005: Collage on Atlas Index (2000, pencil and card collage on book pages, 19 × 98¼ ins/48.2 × 249.5 cm) GBP 52,468

London, 23 Oct 2005: Shadow Procession (1999, animated 35mm film transferred to DVD, 7 minutes) GBP 102,000

New York, 14 March 2006: Drawing from Stereoscope (2000, charcoal and pastel, 29½ × 41½ ins/74.9 × 105.4 cm) USD 42,000

Johannesburg, 27 March 2006: Studio Portrait (colour silkscreen, 38¼ × 26½ ins/97 × 67.5 cm) ZAR 74,800

London, 8 Feb 2007: Untitled (from Landscapes) (1995, charcoal, red crayon, and coloured pencil, 47½ × 65¼ ins/121 × 165.5 cm) GBP 45,600

New York, 28 Feb 2007: Promenade II (in 4 parts) (2002, bronze, 13 × 6½ × 6¾ ins/33 × 16.5 × 17.1 cm) USD 120,000

London, 30 Jan 2008: Felix in Chair – from Felix in Exile (sketch) (charcoal and coloured chalk, 7½ × 10½ ins/19 × 27 cm) GBP 12,000

New York, 12 Nov 2008: Project Drawing: Man in Sandals (1998, watercolour, pastel, ink and charcoal, 92½ × 42¼ ins/234.9 × 107.1 cm) USD 128,500

London, 18 Feb 2009: Untitled (Man with Megaphones) (2001, bronze, h. 11¾ ins/30 cm) GBP 20,400

Johannesburg, 17 Nov 2009: Drawing from Felix in Exile (1993, charcoal and pastel on paper, 33 × 59 ins/84 × 150 cm) ZAR 1,456,000

Cape Town, 5 Oct 2010: The Film Stereoscope (drawing) (charcoal and pastel on paper, 48 × 62¾ ins/122 × 159.5 cm) ZAR 2,240,000

Johannesburg, 20 April 2010: Arc/Procession 6 (1989, charcoal and pastel on paper, 20 × 28 ins/51 × 71 cm) ZAR 224,000

Johannesburg, 19 April 2011: Music Box Tondo (colour lithograph, 43 × 43 ins/109 × 109 cm) ZAR 123,000

New York, 11 May 2011: Preparing the Flute (2005, model theatre with charcoal, pastel, coloured pencil and 35mm video, 95 × 44 × 60½ ins/241.3 × 111.8 × 153.7 cm) USD 602,500

New York, 7 March 2012: X-ray Telephone (1995, charcoal, coloured pencil, and chalk on paper, 22 × 29¾ ins/55.8 × 75.5 cm) USD 18,750

London, 21 March 2012: Anti-waste (oil and charcoal on canvas, 46½ × 62¼ ins/118 × 158 cm) GBP 253,250

London, 13 Feb 2013: Chief Kubicai (1992, charcoal, pastel, gouache, and paper collage on paper, 27½ × 19¾ ins/70 × 50 cm) GBP 18,750

New York, 7 March 2013: Procession (in 25 parts) (1999–2000, bronze, 11¼ × 5¼ × 2¼ ins/28.6 × 13.3 × 5.7 cm) USD 1,538,500

New York, 6 March 2014: Porter Series: Carte l’Europe (Shower Woman) (2006–2007, embroidery, mohair, acrylic, and polyester, 98½ × 138 ins/250 × 350.2 cm) USD 125,000

New York, 14 May 2014: Remembering the Treason Trial (2013, 63 lithographic sheets mounted on linen, 68½ × 70½ ins/173.7 × 179.1 cm) USD 50,000

Bibliography