William Kentridge is one of the most significant and internationally acclaimed artists of our time, and his work is in constant demand by major art museums, institutions and collectors around the world.
Born in 1955 in Johannesburg - where he has continued to live and work - he has, throughout his career, moved between film, drawing, printmaking and theatre, with recent projects frequently integrating elements from all these media and more.
Kentridge's oeuvre is distinguished by his ‘intense reflections on the nature of public and private memory, the construction of history, personal and collective responsibility and the shifting nature of identity‘. His work also offers us a distinctive and highly personal vision of the complex history of South Africa and the legacy of apartheid.
Though Kentridge had been working in Johannesburg since the mid-1970s as a graphic artist, filmmaker, theatre director, actor and set designer, he was largely unknown outside of South Africa, until the cultural boycott of the country was terminated by the dismantling of apartheid and the democratic elections in 1994.
Kentridge´s work could now be included in several major contemporary, international exhibitions, such as Documenta X in Kassel, Germany, in 1997: and solo shows - in important art museums and galleries around the world - began to proliferate, starting with the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (1998) and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1999).
In 1998 a survey exhibition of his work was hosted by the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, continuing to museums in Munich, Barcelona, London, Marseilles and Graz during 1998/9. Also in 1999, he was awarded the Carnegie Medal at the Carnegie International 1999/2000. 2002 saw the launch of a substantial survey show of Kentridge´s work in Washington, travelling thereafter to New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and culminating, finally, at the S.A. National Gallery in Cape Town.
The shadow oratorio, Confessions of Zeno, was commissioned for Documenta XI in 2002. In October 2003, Kentridge received the prestigious Goslar Kaisserring in recognition of his contribution to contemporary art. A new retrospective of his work was curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev for the Castello di Rivoli in Turin in January 2004, which thereafter toured to Dusseldorf, Sydney, Montreal, Johannesburg and Miami.
In November 2004 the Metropolitan Museum in New York presented a solo show of Kentridge´s work from their collection. April 2005 saw the premiere of a production of Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) at the Theatre de La Monnaie in Brussels, with William Kentridge directing and Rene Jacobs as conductor.
The installation, 7 Fragments for Georges Melies, Day for Night and Journey to the Moon, was presented at the 2005 Venice Biennale. In October 2005, the Deutsche Bank Guggenheim in Berlin hosted Black Box/Chambre Noire - a project commissioned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
Black/Box /Chambre Noire was shown at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in early 2006 and at the Salzburg Museum in July. April 2005 saw the premiere of a production of Mozart´s The Magic Flute at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels: the opera has since been performed at Opera de Lille, the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv and Teatro san Carlo in Naples and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, and played to capacity houses also in Johannesburg and Cape Town in Spring 2007.
Kentridge considers the activity of drawing as the basis of all his work.He has stated: I believe that, in the indeterminacy of drawing, the contingent way that images arrive in the work, lies some kind of model of how we live our lives. The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are or how we operate in the world. It is in the strangeness of the activity itself that can be detected judgement, ethics and morality.
(From Exhibition Guide to the William Kentridge Retrospective at Iziko S.A.National Gallery, 2002)
On ´Political Art´
I am interested in a political art, that is to say, an art of ambiguity , contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain endings an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check, and nihilism at bay.
(Quoted in Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev: ´William Kentridge´, Societe des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles, 1998)
On living a lifetime in Johannesburg
I have never been able to escape Johannesburg, and in the end, all my work is rooted in this rather desperate provincial city. I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings and the films are certainly spawned by, and feed off, the brutalised society left in its wake.
(Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev: ´William Kentridge´, Societe des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles, 1998)