William Kentridge – that which we do not remember

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney until 3 February

One of the most distinctive voices in contemporary art, William Kentridge (b. 1955- ) emerged as an artist during the apartheid regime in South Africa. His parents were attorneys often representing people marginalised by the apartheid system. Grounded in the violent absurdity of that period, his artworks draw connections between art, history and memory.

Curated by Kentridge himself, this exhibition encourages viewers to find the links between diverse aspects of the artist’s practice: from his engagement with opera, early cinema, special effects, animated drawings in charcoal and ink to sculptures and paper.

While there’s much to like in this exhibition, which occupies a substantial part of the lower-lower ground floor of the gallery, it’s not an exhibition that encourages quiet contemplation – rather it’s a racket. There’s squawking of animations, discordant Shostakovich, the noise of aeroplanes, bombs being dropped and birdsong. There’s sculptures hung from the ceiling, rows of desks and in several rooms (somewhat overwhelming) simultaneous screenings of several of his animated works.

A few favourites first time around: in a piece called 7 fragments for Georges Meilies (the French illusionist and film-maker) we see Kentridge standing at wall with a blank page before him, sleeves rolled up, he’s ready to draw. Then he commences with a bold curve for the arm and shoulder but as he works, the artist is transformed into an animation of himself drawing. Finally the animation shifts so a dark shadow becomes an inky spiral – the artist has vanished: just the work remains.

There are playful pieces such as ‘What will come (has already come) 2007, where an animation is projected onto a round table with a cylindrical mirror in the centre (a process called anamorphosis). The deliberately distorted projections when viewed in the convex of the mirror become legible pictures. Planes become birds, bombs become clouds, horses become merry-go-round horses.

Other favourites are the still images – such as cat guy and cane chair (above), and the poem below (a good example, though not in this exhibition, is here) and drawings for his staging of Shostakovich’s opera The Nose.


It is such a raucous and engaging exhibition I suggest you dive right in (or if you’re a wuss like me, plan your repeat visits).

And to put you in the mood, here’s Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2

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