Carleton’s Perlman Teaching Museum unveiled a new exhibit featuring the work of William Kentridge last weekend. The opening reception featured an introductory lecture from University of Pennsylvania museum director and curator, Lynn Marsden-Atlass.
Kentridge is a mixed media artist specializing in linocuts and stop-motion animation. Marsden-Atlass explained how Kentridge’s experiences growing up in a Jewish family in apartheid South Africa infused his art with political commentary. A quote from Kentridge printed on the gallery wall read, “I am interested in a political art, that is to say, an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures, and uncertain endings – an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay.”
Aside from the artist’s personal history, Marsden-Atlass’ lecture provided a fascinating view into Kentridge’s processes and philosophy. She explained that his linocuts, which made up a majority of the exhibit, were originally brush and ink sketches that were transferred and carved into pieces of linoleum and then stamped onto pages of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. This method created contrast between the spontaneity of brushwork and the meticulous detail of engraving. Marsden-Atlass argued that the juxtaposition of free flowing images atop the structured and rigid pages of a dictionary is at the core of what makes Kentridge’s work whimsical, unsettling, and, as Carleton student Juliana Johnson ’20 wrote, “infinitely thought-provoking.”
“I am interested in a political art, that is to say, an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures, and uncertain endings an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay.”
The most compelling part of the exhibit is Kentridge’s short film “Second-hand Reading.” Kentridge uses flip-book stop-motion animation to combine hand illustrations, prints and text into a loose but hypnotic narrative. Kentridge’s impressive ability to capture the fluidity of motion on a frame-by-frame basis, combined with the haunting, emotive music of Neo Muyanga, left me caught off-guard with goosebumps.
The text of the film was beautiful and inspiring, but also bleak enough to steer the work away from motivational-speaker territory. Having gone into the evening with no expectations, I was very grateful to have found myself in front of such a strange but lovely creation.
To quote comedian John Mulaney, “percentage wise, it is 100% easier not to do things than to do them,” and it is especially easy not to do things once you have fallen into your routines and comfort zone on the Hill. This weekend reminded me of the importance of fighting against mid-semester inertia that all too often keeps students on campus. With most of the fall still ahead of us, I encourage you to explore the art, culture and beauty that is available outside the bubble of St. Olaf. The Kentridge exhibit runs through Nov. 10, and I would say it is a good place to start.
Perlman Teaching Museum hours:
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday – Wednesday
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday
12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday