William Kentridge’s works have rarely popped up in L.A. collections, so it’s understandable if you’re unfamiliar with him. In fact, we’d say that might be the ideal way to head into this nearly four-decade-spanning survey, which has surprises waiting in seemingly every gallery—including a showstopping, barely-illuminated immersive environment.
Kentridge grew up in apartheid-era Johannesburg, and the early black-and-white charcoal drawings that open the exhibition—and really the majority of the works elsewhere in the show—chronicle the damages of the discriminatory political system. The artist would soon create animations out of those drawings, through a process in which he would methodically erase and then redraw on the same work. Sculptures begin to pop up, too, whether “singing” Singer sewing machines or a mirrored cylinder that corrects the perspective of an adjacent drawing. Eventually, the show wraps up in a room full of drafting tables and earth tone decor the mimics the look of Kentridge’s own studio.
In some museum shows, you pop your head into video galleries for a minute, think alright and then move on, slightly puzzled. But that’s not the case here, where every darkened nook with a screen brings something unexpected. Follow the sound of classical music through a curtain where you’ll find a wooden box shimmering with the projections of Kentridge’s stage designs for an opera.
Then round the corner into a narrow wooden hallway and you’ll find yourself in “The Refusal of Time,” a 2012 installation that’ll leave you fully captivated during its half-hour expression of the clash of industry, nature and culture. In a nearly pitch-black expanse, wooden bellows dubbed “the elephant” breathe in the center of the room, with booming megaphones and wooden boxes surrounding it (and, thankfully, places to sit) and light-and-shadow animations that dance across the walls.
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