By Paul DeMuro
Notations/William Kentridge: Tapestries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
William Kentridge ‘Seeing Double’ at Marian Goodman Gallery, NYC
The Puppet Show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
Kentridge’s films always manage to remain intriguing, and often create a desire in the viewer to become educated in the politics of Kentridge’s content, which most often had to do with the socio-political turmoil of the South African apartheid, which lasted from 1948 until 1994. If looking at the abundant amount of work on display between Philadelphia and New York is any indication of the artist’s current direction, Kentridge seems to have moved away from his usual terrain of making gritty, unusual animated films where the imagery is derived through the act of drawing, assembling, erasing, and redrawing; a process that makes realist Ashcan school drawing exciting by making it come alive in clouds of charcoal dust and lines and smudges of worn and ripped subsurface. In their static form, as well as in the form of stereoscopic, etching, bronze sculpture, tapestry, table leg, and cylindered animation (am I forgetting something?), they don’t quite transcend what the more straightforward film is able. For this and other reasons, the work shown at both the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the ICA at the University of Pennsylvania, and at the Marian Goodman Gallery is somewhat of a disappointment. It is a case of putting to many pots on the boiler.
Kentridge is an artist who has a sincere and devoted sensitivity to issues surrounding atrocity, oppression, and it's relation to both the miasma he personally experienced and its relation to the global world. He deals with these aspects of the world with an admirable tact and even humanism, refreshing sentiment in contrast to contemporary art, but less specifically to a larger culture that, without question or challenge, promotes things like the latest Rambo blockbuster. However, in the work displayed at the PMA, primarily consisting of a large grouping of European styled tapestry, whatever messages, thoughts, ideas, and feelings that were once evoked by Kentridge’s films have become obscured and muddy behind the layers of reference in this particular work.
One tapestry, I surmise as part of the same series as the work at the PMA, was also up at the Marion Goodman Gallery in midtown New York. Rows of bronze sculptures, walls of etchings and drawings, along with the animated drawings projected from above to animate around a reflective cylinder, a large mirror used to view two drawings, and stereoscopic binoculars with the function to make the drawings appear 3-d, I had the thought that I was in a William Kentridge curio shop, a thought that became sad when I realized that the emphasis was more on the “shop” than on the “curio.” Thinking of this, I related the installation to the experience based flagship stores (the Disney Store, the Trump Store, etc.) that line the nearby 5th Avenue. I never thought of Kentridge as a branded artist before I saw all of this. What is it in the style of tapestry, or table leg, that informs the content of the work? This is a mystery to me.
Despite all of this, Kentridge’s production with the Handspring Puppet Company, a video of a play titled Ubu and the Truth Commission, shown at the ICA as part of the otherwise weak “Puppet Show” should take best in show. This is because in this production the puppets function as theater props, which makes it more traditional than other work. However, in the cluster of puppets that mean little to the artist’s that made them, Kentridge’s play stands out. He knows exactly what a puppet is, and doesn’t try anything too convoluted when using them. At the same time, the work is not evoking the clichéd, juxtaposed subversive, as other artists obsess over the making of the puppet as cute-thing-as-creepy-thing.
[Paul DeMuro is an artist living and working in Philadelphia. Notations/William Kentridge: Tapestries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art runs through April 6th.]
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Friday, March 7, 2008
By Paul DeMuro