Preview: William Kentridge Retrospectives

Simultaneous retrospectives of William Kentridge’s work at Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation offer a rare chance to explore the acclaimed artist’s oeuvre.

Thys Dullaart, Stella Olivier 
William Kentridge Retrospectives | House and Leisure
Artist William Kentridge in his studio with a plaster version of his piece ‘Open’ (2019).

Trying to keep up with William Kentridge can become fatiguing, especially for those of us born later than his early success. With his vast body of work, and endless list of exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world, it’s a lot of time to catch up on. This is the reason why there’s so much excitement about the artist’s upcoming retrospectives in Cape Town. 

From 24 August to 23 March 2020, an unprecedented selection of Kentridge’s work from the past 40 years will be on show at the prestigious Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation, in what Zeitz MOCAA describes as ‘the largest exhibition to be held in Africa in over a decade’. 

At the Zeitz MOCAA in the Silo District, visitors will get to experience the artist’s drawings, stop-frame animations, videos, prints, sculptures, tapestries and installations in the exhibition 'Why Should I Hesitate: Putting Drawings to Work'.

Further afield in Tokai, Norval Foundation will host 'Why Should I Hesitate: Sculpture' – the first ever exhibition that will consists solely of Kentridge’s sculptures. 

Both exhibitions will feature a wide selection of Kentridge’s work, including early creations and newer pieces on view for the first time in South Africa. 

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William Kentridge Retrospectives | House and Leisure
‘Bicycle Wheel’ (2017) by William Kentridge forms part of the exhibition 'Why Should I Hesitate: Sculpture', on show at Norval Foundation from 24 August 2019.


It’s a chance for local art lovers to look back on the artist’s rich past, engage with works only ever exhibited internationally, and speculate about what he could do next. And for Kentridge himself, the exhibitions offer a rare opportunity to create access to his work for South African audiences, which he hopes will make it more understandable and less intimidating. 

‘The South African art world has changed so much in the 40 years or so that I’ve been around, working in the studio,’ he says. ‘During that period, we saw the end of apartheid, before which South African artists were very isolated from the rest of the world. Now, there is a large number of South African artists who are very much part of the international art scene – at exhibitions and biennales, with galleries representing them all over the world. So even though I’ve been doing it for a long time, I’m by no means unique or alone now, and the company of other artists is very comforting.’

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Kentridge was recently voted ArtReview magazine’s Africa’s Most Powerful Artist, but he doesn’t agree with the nomination.

‘To be the most powerful artist in Africa… really, it’s not a term I was familiar with, and I don’t think it’s true either,’ he says. ‘I think, thank goodness, there isn’t a single figure that has to represent a country, far less a whole continent. But there are moments of solidarity between artists in Africa relating to what it is to be at the margins, to be in a post-colonial situation. To have this as a central point of consideration, not just in one’s work, but in one’s life, and the relationship of Europe to the people and place where one lives.’ 

Most importantly for Kentridge is that when audiences leave his exhibitions, ‘they come away with the sense that it’s possible to make things, and that they think about the agency of making,’ he says.

‘A lot of the objects here are really stupid. There’s a big space for non-reflective, physical making, rather than theoretical analysis before the work is done. I hope people come away thinking, “ I could do that” or even, “My six year old could do that.” And I think that’s fine.’

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