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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

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Who would imagine that Sobriety, Obesity and Growing Old could look sexy? That ants are negative stars; that through stacked espresso cups one can see the moon… Who would think that a rhinoceros and a table lamp can star in the Magic Flute, and that classic ballerina Anna Pavlova can embody the Gogol’s Nose. The art of William Kentridge, who lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa, is now presented in an unparalleled show “Five Themes” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Upon entering the fourth floor galleries, visitors will find themselves in a sea of imagery in drawings, films, shadow puppets, sculpture, and music that will pulsate, ebb and flow, rotate and whirl around like a galaxy of endless metamorphoses. Planets will follow and change their orbits; the orbits will collide; human lives will intertwine or disappear; heavenly bodies will shine or burst in a fascinating journey along the timeline of human history. Besides being melancholy, poignant, and deeply poetic, Kentridge’s universe is glum yet humorous, dark but energizing, full of unexplained atrocities, and of relentless hope, not unlike life itself. Growing up in the time of apartheid, the artist explores his reality from a philosophical standpoint. His expression is not agenda-driven and superficial as political art mostly is; it’s all built on perceptions and subtleties, on charcoal drawing and erasure, on alter ego and doppelgangers. The artist’s own creative process; the absurdity of oppressive regimes; the endless processions of dumb hope, and the conflict between power and humanity, with love thrown in the middle, are just a few themes of his oeuvre, which far exceeds the chosen five in the show. At the opening, Kentridge said that he is constantly overwhelmed with ideas, choosing some over others, and deeply researching everything that interests him. His uncanny ability to penetrate the very core of the matter of his many interests fills his work with substance and sensibility rarely seen in his contemporaries, more often than not limited to a couple of marketable methods and ideas. The artist’s muse, wife, and occasional model, Anne Stanwix, present at the opening, said answering this reporter’s question, that it is not hard living with the genius, because “his wife and [three] children keep him grounded,” and that in everyday life Kentridge is fun to be around. William Kentridge: Five Themes runs through May 31 at 151 Third Street, San Francisco. The show, co-organized by SFMOMA and the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, will travel to Fort Worth, West Palm Beach, New York, Paris, Vienna, Jerusalem, and Amsterdam in 2009-2011. Call 415-357-4000 or visit for more information. Photo by Emma Krasov: William Kentridge. Anne Stanwix.


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