Two Kentridge Shows Come to Paris

Image: John Hodgkiss; courtesy of William Kentridge

The New York Times: Globespotters, 10/08/2010

“The past is never dead,” wrote William Faulkner, “it is not even past.” At “William Kentridge — Five Themes,” which runs until Sept. 5 at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, the past is a constant and ambiguous presence. Arriving in Paris after a well-received run at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the exhibition is a brief overview of the South African artist’s career, featuring 40 works completed in a variety of mediums — animated films, drawings, prints and models.

At the museum (1, place de la Concorde; 33-1-47-03-12-50; jeudepaume.org), the exhibition unfolds chronologically, an ironic if welcome hint of structure amid the temporal uncertainty of the work. Early pieces feature fictional characters and are marked by a political tone, while in recent work, like Mr. Kentridge’s production of the Shostakovich opera “The Nose,” there’s a lighter approach, with the focus switching to the artist and the creative process itself.

Downstairs the cycle of nine “drawings for projection” plays in the auditorium. They tell the story of Soho Eckstein, a rich industrialist, through the last years of apartheid and the emergence of the new South Africa. Using what he has described as “stone age” techniques, Mr. Kentridge achieves astonishing results. Starting with an initial charcoal drawing, he crudely erases and reworks details, leaving traces of the previous image. As a physical representation of time passing, and the lingering, ghostly presence of the past, it’s truly remarkable.

Meanwhile, at the Louvre, a smaller exhibition of the artist’s drawings and original films on an Egyptian theme, “Carnets d’Egypte,” is on display in the Departments of Graphic Arts and of Egyptian Antiquities until Aug. 30.

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