The Sheer Virtuosity of William Kentridge

Present Music offers unique concert of his music with guest performers from South Africa.

By - Nov 14th, 2022 05:08 pm
William Kentridge. Photo by Norbert Miguletz courtesy of The Warehouse MKE.

William Kentridge. Photo by Norbert Miguletz courtesy of The Warehouse MKE.

This Wednesday, Present Music offers Flat on your back on the dry wintry grass – a cine concert, an immersion into the works of an internationally recognized artist whose works defy classification.

South African artist William Kentridge has forged a unique role in the art world. After experimenting individually with painting, theater, and film, Kentridge discovered:

At the age of 30 I was back making drawings even though I thought I wouldn’t be an artist. I discovered in fact (that) I also wanted to keep going with the theatre, and the drawings became films and in the end I gave up trying to say what I was. … For me the only hope was the cross-fertilization between different mediums and genres.

Kentridge’s reach grew. He has designed the settings for operas, patterns for tapestries, small optical illusions, very large murals, and hard-edged sculpture, as well as complete performance environments with projections, moving silhouettes, and improvised acting and music.

Growing up and choosing to stay in South Africa, Kentridge learned from his parents, who, as lawyers, defended the rights of those fighting apartheid, to use his art for social justice as well.

This summer and fall, avid art collectors Jan Serr and John Shannon have featured an exhibit showcasing Kentridge’s diversity and creativity at The Warehouse, an art gallery built to share highlights of their collection.

Shannon says he has been attracted to Kentridge for “his original, inventive and joyful artistry and his deeply felt humanism.” The Warehouse exhibition (closing December 16) offers a “window into how Kentridge sees and thinks. This exhibition explores the limits and possibilities of art as a means of making sense of the world.”

To prepare for the immersive experience on Wednesday, consider watching one or two detailed videos. How We Make Sense of the World tours the studios in Johannesburg where the work is created.

Understanding the key themes in William Kentridge’s artworks frames the work and its importance to the art community.

Or simply watch this short video to learn the technique Kentridge uses to make his stop-action films.

Theater and film productions are created by a team of artists, actors and singers. Works are accompanied by compositions written by close collaborator Philip Miller. Miller has adapted the score from several of Kentridge’s short films for the Present Music ensemble. Present Music has also commissioned Miller to write a song cycle incorporating poetry by the artist’s sister, Eliza Kentridge.

South African opera singers Ann Masina (soprano) and Tshegofatso Moeng (baritone) will join the Present Music ensemble for what will occasionally be a spontaneous experience.

Several Kentridge films will be showcased, including 9 Drawings for Projection, Paper Music, The Head, and the Load Suite, Refuse the Hour, and Triumphs and Laments Suite. (The links are to excerpts of these films, which also appear to be redesigned at each showing.)

The Triumphs and Laments art is particularly impressive. Kentridge created a a large-scale, 550-meter-long frieze, stenciled on the walls by removing portions of the grime that has accumulated over the years on the travertine embankment that lines Rome’s urban waterfront. Exploring dominant tensions in the history of the Eternal City from past to present, more than 80 figures, up to 10 meters high, represent Rome’s greatest victories and defeats from mythological time to present. The work opened in April 2016 with the premiere of a theatrical event created in collaboration with composer Miller, featuring live shadow play and two processional bands composed of more than 40 musicians and vocalists performing against the backdrop of the frieze.

For the first time in many years, there not be a Present Music Thanksgiving concert at Saint John’s Cathedral. The Bucks Native American Singing and Drumming Group open this Wednesday’s concert at the museum.

Kentridge events have been staged over the past few decades in major art museums around the world. If you have not been aware of his work, prepare for a multi-sensory experience.

The concert begins on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Windhover Hall at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr. Composer Miller and Eliza Kentridge will give a pretalk at 6:30 p.m. in Lubar Hall. Tickets may be purchased online. The museum exhibits will be free for ticket holders starting at 10:00 a.m. the day of the performance.

The concert will be live-streamed as a digital option as well.

The Warehouse exhibit of Kentridge’s works closes on Dec. 16. Shannon will discuss the collection at noon on Dec. 1. The Warehouse is located in the Menomonee Valley at 1635 W. St Paul Ave.

Reserve the evening of Dec. 14 for Present Music’s second annual post-modern holiday “caroling” event, Present Music invites you to join an evening walk about the city with boomboxes and smartphones, creating a constantly morphing sound sculpture by Kline. Each participant plays a provided audio track while walking a route through Milwaukee’s streets.

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