Printmaker? Animator? Set designer? In the grand style of the avant-garde, the artist William Kentridge has always moved across materials and media. A charcoal drawing may become an image in a stop-motion animated film; erased and re-drawn, the new image becomes the film’s next projected frame as well as an evolving work on paper. Layers of mark-making and visual quotation accumulate into both art and artifact in this reverberating oeuvre, which draws on a wide range of modernist idioms. Vestiges of Dada, Expressionism, and Constructivism (favorite Kentridge motifs include typography, mouths, and megaphones) all inform the unmistakable language of this innovative South African artist.
The challenge for the curator is how to get a handle on this wandering body of work. Kentridge exhibitions tend to go for a bit—or a lot—of everything. His startling set designs for his productions of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Shostakovich’s The Nose, or Berg’s Lulu may appear in the gallery as animated maquettes. Or the museum may become a theater of its own. In 2013, New York’s Metropolitan went all in with “The Refusal of Time,” an installation of Kentridge video projections and belching bellows that turned the museum-goer into an active participant in a drama of industrial labor. And last year the Park Avenue Armory featured The Head & the Load, a harrowing performance of music, projection, and shadow that told the lost story of African engagement in the First World War.