William Kentridge Decodes the Best Artworks in History

VIDEO: The artist explains how artists think about and value art.


The talk series at Frieze Masters, which also includes discussions with artists Phyllida Barlow and Edmund de Waal, is a new addition to the talks program at Frieze London, with support by Gucci and artnet. In this second talk of the series, William Kentridge, best known for his prints, drawings and animated films, discusses art with Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, Head of the Courtauld Gallery, London.

Kentridge was born in South Africa, where he studied politics, African history, and fine art at the University of Witwatersrand and the Johannesburg Art Foundation. He also studied theater and mime at the École Jacques Lecoq in Paris in the hopes of becoming an actor. In the ’70s and ’80s, he acted in and directed theater, television, and film productions before making a transition to art production.

Kentridge’s expressive drawings, rendered in pastels and charcoals, are influenced by his unique upbringing as a third-party observer of the conflict in South Africa, being an ethnic European. His monotypes and sketches are often a commentary on systems of social division in the ongoing conflict. Although the viewer needs a knowledge of the unique imagery of South African culture, the feeling of the composition is dictated by his use of palette and overlaying elements, mimicking palimpsest. There is also a strong presence of artistic satire in his sketches and prints, influenced by the likes of Francisco de Goya, Honoré Daumier, and William Hogarth.

By the 1990s, Kentridge had established an international following and reputation. His artwork and films have been shown in solo exhibitions at many international museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Albertina Museum in Vienna.

In 1988, he was a founding member of the Free Filmmakers Co-operative, and has been the recipient of many prizes, including the Kyoto Prize (2010), the Carnegie Prize (2000), and the Red Ribbon Award for Short Fiction (1982). His co-production of Berg’s Lulu will have its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2015.

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