William Kentridge / Notes Towards a Model Opera / 2016 - Installation View
21 January - 12 February 2016
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’s work has been seen in museums and galleries around the world since the 1990s, including Documenta in Kassel, Germany (1997, 2003, 2012), the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1998, 2010), the Albertina Museum in Vienna (2010), Jeu de Paume in Paris (2010), and the Musée du Louvre in Paris (2010), where he presented Carnets d’Egypte, a project conceived especially for the Egyptian Room. Kentridge’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute was presented at Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, Festival d’Aix, and in 2011 at La Scala in Milan, and his production of Shostakovich’s The Nose was seen at The New York Metropolitan Opera in 2010 and again in 2013, travelling to Festival d’Aix and to Lyon in 2011. The five-channel video and sound installation The Refusal of Time was made for Documenta (13) in Kassel, Germany, in 2012; since then it has been seen at MAXXI in Rome, the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and other cities including Boston, Perth, Kyoto, Helsinki and Wellington. A substantial survey exhibition of Kentridge’s work opened in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, going on in following years to Porto Alegre, São Paulo, Bogota, Medellin, and Mexico City. In the summer of 2014 Kentridge’s production of Schubert’s Winterreise opened at the Vienna Festival, Festival d’Aix, and Holland Festival. In the fall it opened at the Lincoln Center in New York. Paper Music, a concert of projections with live music by Philip Miller, opened in Florence in September 2014, and was presented at Carnegie Hall in New York in late October 2014. Both the installation The Refusal of Time and its companion performance piece Refuse the Hour were presented in Cape Town in February 2015. More recently, Kentridge’s production of the Alban Berg opera Wozzeck premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2017, and in 2018 his latest performance project The Head & The Load opened at Tate Modern in London, and travelled to Park Avenue Armory in December.
In 2010, Kentridge received the prestigious Kyoto Prize in recognition of his contributions in the field of arts and philosophy. In 2011, he was elected as an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and received the degree of Doctor of Literature honoris causa from the University of London. In 2012, Kentridge presented the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University and was elected member of the American Philosophical Society and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Also in that year, he was awarded the Dan David Prize by Tel Aviv University, and was named as Commandeur des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. In 2013, William Kentridge was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts by Yale University and in 2014 received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Cape Town.
Upcoming News and Projects
In 2019, Kentridge’s celebrated production of the Alban Berg opera Wozzeck will run for seven performances at the Sydney Opera House from 25 January to 15 February. A major museum survey show at Kunstmuseum Basel, opening 8 June until 13 October. In the second-half of the year there will be a major Kentridge exhibition across two venues in Cape Town: Zeitz MOCAA and the Norval Foundation.