Basta y Sobra | View - The nose (2009) | Photo © Joaquin Cortes /Roman Lores

Basta y sobra. An exhibition on the scenic work of William Kentridge.

December 13, 2017

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In Madrid from 1 November 2017 to 19 March 2018 at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

Unlike other previous exhibitions and retrospectives about the artist, Basta y sobra is the first exhibition that has ever been organized to explore the plastic art production of William Kentridge basing on his theater, opera, and performance projects.

The exhibition states that the scenic work of Kentridge (Johannesburg, 1955) and his plastic art cannot be meant some parallel worlds. On the contrary, they are the same essence that finds different manifestations complementing each other simultaneously to the point that both works are not understood without each other.

Basta y Sobra | W. Kentridge, Right into her arms (2016) | Photo © M.N. Reina Sofía
Basta y sobra | W. Kentridge, Right into her arms (2016) | Photo © M.N. Reina Sofía

The evolution of Kentridge’s intellectual and professional career perfectly demonstrates the symbiosis of both “worlds”.

Since 1975, still a student of  Politics and African Studies at the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), Kentridge made his first appearances as an actor, director and set designer at the university experimental theater company Junction Avenue, openly political and critical of Apartheid.

Basta y Sobra | View | Photo © Joaquin Cortes /Roman Lores
Basta y sobra | View | Photo © Joaquin Cortes /Roman Lores

After spending a year at L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, on his return to South Africa in 1982 he continued to work in theater and in the film and television industry, but it was in the early nineties that he was granted international recognition in the plastic arts after his participation in the first Johannesburg Biennial (1995) and Documenta X (1997).

Basta y Sobra | W. Kentridge, a frame from I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008) | Photo © M.N. Reina Sofía
Basta y sobra | W. Kentridge, a frame from I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008) | Photo © M.N. Reina Sofía

However, Jacques Lecoq‘s mime classes had already marked for Kentridge a turning point in his artistic training, a determining fact that conditioned his later career as he himself acknowledged: “I was at a stage in my life where I did not know what I wanted to do, and where I had the choice between three things: continue studying art at a recognized school, such as the Slade School or the Central School of Art in London; study filmmaking at the New York Film School; or continue with the theater, but in this case I wanted a school interested in improvisation. Jacques Lecoq was, therefore, a good choice. That year in Paris was the most productive teaching I have ever received.”

Basta y Sobra | View | Photo © Joaquin Cortes /Roman Lores
Basta y sobra | View | Photo © Joaquin Cortes /Roman Lores

Throughout his career Kentridge seems to have overcome the dilemma he had as a student not resigning some of these artistic disciplines but, on the contrary, achieving a fruitful coexistence and conciliation between them. He has become a reference multidisciplinary artist that combines the practice of drawing, collage, printmaking, sculpture, film, theater, opera and video art.

Basta y Sobra | W. Kentridge, drawing for Il ritorno di Ulisse (1998) | Photo © M.N. Reina Sofía
Basta y sobra | W. Kentridge, drawing for Il ritorno di Ulisse (1998) | Photo © M.N. Reina Sofía

The exhibition

The backbone of the exhibition comprises a selection of seven theater pieces and operas “orchestrated” by William Kentridge: Woyzeck on the Highveld (Woyzeck in the High Veld, 1992), Faustus in Africa! (Faust in Africa!, 1995), Ubu and the Truth Commission (Ubú and the Commission for Truth, 1997), Il ritorno d’Ulisse (The return of Ulysses, 1998), The Nose (The nose, 2010), Lulu (Lulú , 2015), and Wozzeck (2017) [follow the links to read our articles about the productions].

This selection allows a transversal journey that shows certain constants of Kentridge’s artistic career. All of them are stories of a single protagonist that serve to weave different situations and cause more complex realities.

Basta y Sobra | View | Photo © Joaquin Cortes /Roman Lores
Basta y sobra | View | Photo © Joaquin Cortes /Roman Lores

They are dramas where, often, the absurd becomes an ally to effectively untangle and unravel concrete circumstances and contexts. The characters of Woyzeck, Ubú, Lulú, Ulysses, Faust, and even the Nose, are victims or executioners of confined structures that reveal, in the public and domestic sphere, the scourges of tyranny, authoritarianism, meanness, and corruption.

Basta y Sobra | Model for Wozzeck (2016) | Photo © Joaquin Cortes /Roman Lores
Basta y sobra | Model for Wozzeck (2016) | Photo © Joaquin Cortes /Roman Lores

Supported by a large team of regular collaborators (Handspring Puppet Company, Jane Taylor, Philip Miller, Sabine Theunissen, among many others) Kentridge uses existing European repertoires and reinterprets them from a personal perspective. He often recontextualizes the stories in South Africa, rewriting the original scripts to make them permeable to that reality.

Basta y Sobra | Studies for the costumes of the Nose (2009/2015) | Photo © M.N. Reina Sofía
Basta y sobra | Studies for the costumes of the Nose (2009/2015) | Photo © M.N. Reina Sofía

This recontextualization allows a reflection on the dystopian landscape of Johannesburg, a recurring theme whose potential the artist exploits again and again throughout his career. The South African landscape, so different from its universal imaginary, is a true witness of history.

The importance given to the creative process is another key aspect of Kentridge’s production. During the conception of the aforementioned pieces, drawings, engravings, and films are interspersed that serve as a starting point, are the result of the same or were produced simultaneously and complementarily. The exhibition brings together a wide selection of materials and media that account for these synergies between the artist’s visual and scenic work, as well as the different approaches and formalizations that he proposes for each project.

Basta y Sobra | W. Kentridge, Right into her arms (2016) | Photo © M.N. Reina Sofía
Basta y sobra | W. Kentridge, Right into her arms (2016) | Photo © M.N. Reina Sofía

Thus, the exhibition shows the different materials created both in the process of creation and those that are finally used in the sets (drawings, models of scenes, posters, puppets or costumes), which are displayed along with the recordings of his operas and plays, and some of the films that back them, such as, among others, Right into her arms, the miniature theater where some drawings used in the opera Lulu are projected.