The expansive MoMA atrium was dimly lit and filled to the brim with well-heeled guests, champagne glasses in excess, and the ignited murmur of small talk and art world articulations. This was my first ever gallery opening, and I had never seen the museum so enlivened, so loud, and so festive. The event, which took place on Tuesday February 24, 2010, was a celebration of the new exhibit, William Kentridge: Five Themes.
Before this evening, I was only mildly acquainted with Kentridge’s work. I knew him as an artist who worked mostly with charcoal and pastel drawings, creating self-portraits that were dissociated from his person through surrealistic environments and situations. Something always distanced me from his work: perhaps the melancholic tone embodied in his morose figures and predominantly grayscale palette deterred me. Aesthetically, I tend to enjoy more graphic and more jovial expression in art. I like art that kindles and challenges my eye and my mind, and the celebrates life in some way. Color is often a strong component. That is what draws me to Bettina Moraes, Beatriz Milhazes, Gabriel Orozco, Yves Klein, Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian, to name a few.
This exhibit surprised me, because I discovered Kentridge’s range. It included many of his signature charcoal drawings, but it also displayed numerous examples of his video art, which are very graphically inclined. The curators sprinkled the gallery with large, dark rooms that surround and overwhelm the spectator with large-scale projections of the artist’s animations.
The monochromatic use of color, the aesthetic of collage, and the use of foreign text (Russian?) in some of the animations brought to mind vintage propaganda posters, brought to life. The feeling of being inundated by the images added to this sense, as they created a circumference around the unlit room, saturating the viewers. It made for an almost interactive experience to be enclosed that way.
I also enjoyed the collection of smaller, more intimate drawings, pictured below. The curator preceded this room with an overpowering video display, enabling an experience of contrasts. Here, the viewer must get up close to see the artwork. Or, they may stand back and take in the pleasing geometric arrangement of delicate white frames.
Though Kentridge is not one of my preferred artists, I do recommend the exhibit. It surprised me to experience more of what the artist has to offer. I also recommend finding a way into gallery openings. The energy was exciting, and it was interesting to see the museum space transformed as a social space.
William Kentridge: Five Themes will be on display at the Museum of Modern Art from February 24th to May 17th, 2010. (Image below from moma.org)
Visit the exhibition website here.