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The Refusal of Time on View at Met in First U.S. Showing Beginning October 22

Released: October 16, 2013 ·

(San Francisco and New York, October 17, 2013)—Marking a major collaboration between two leading U.S. museums, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today the joint acquisition of South African artist William Kentridge’s major multimedia installation The Refusal of Time (2012).

Among Kentridge’s most complex and ambitious work to date, the piece represents a key development in the artist’s recent practice, with the incorporation of major sculptural and kinetic elements in an immersive multiprojection environment.

The Refusal of Time is a joint acquisition by purchase, and will have its U.S. premiere at the Metropolitan Museum from October 22, 2013, through May 11, 2014.

When SFMOMA’s transformative expansion project is complete and the museum reopens to the public in 2016, The Refusal of Time will join an extensive body of works by Kentridge already in or promised to SFMOMA’s collection as well as in the renowned Fisher Collection—35 artworks in total, including videos, works on paper, and other major installations, making San Francisco home to one of the best representations of the artist’s mature work.

Refusal of Time offers viewers a powerful multisensory experience that builds upon Kentridge’s history of creating humanistic, politically urgent, and truly extraordinary hybrid work,” says SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, who co-curated a traveling Kentridge retrospective in 2001, one of the first exhibitions to widely introduce the artist’s work to U.S. audiences.  “SFMOMA is thrilled to collaborate with the Met on joint stewardship of this important work, which furthers our vision to be an international showcase for the most boundary-pushing art of our time.”

“The acquisition of The Refusal of Time signals the Metropolitan’s strong commitment to the art of today, and we are thrilled to share this work with SFMOMA,” says Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum. Regarding its premiere in New York, he added, “As the steward of 5,000 years of artistic heritage from all corners of the world, the Met offers a unique and global context in which to explore Kentridge’s remarkable meditation on the history of standards and measures of time.”

Kentridge’s installations of recent years are particularly notable for their skillful integration of moving image, sound, sculptural elements, and theater to provide the viewer with an experience virtually unparalleled in other recent time-based practice. His work in all media—drawings, video projections, prints, performance—deftly combines visually seductive imagery with probing explorations of the interwoven histories of science, colonialism, and globalization, as well as the ephemeral nature of both personal and cultural memory.

The Refusal of Time

Commissioned originally for Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, The Refusal of Time comprises five separate video projections and a layered soundscape by the renowned South African composer Philip Miller that plays through various megaphones, each with a different soundtrack. Central to the work is a large kinetic sculpture—the “breathing machine” or “elephant”—an organlike automaton with a pumping bellows. For the video projections, Kentridge collaborated with choreographers, filmmakers, and stage designers to create animations and live-action sequences, including the final “shadow procession” that ends the 30-minute work.

Kentridge’s recent interest in the nature of time was given focus through the work of Harvard-based historian of science Peter Galison, who studied Albert Einstein’s experiments with the measurement of time through telegraphs and the synchronization of clocks at national railway stations. In Galison’s view, Einstein’s work converged with that of Henri Poincaré, the late-19th-century French mathematician and president of the Bureau des Longitudes who developed global time zone maps at the dawn of the 20th century. Both scientists were forced to face the radical idea that, in a newly industrialized and interconnected world, time was relative and not absolute. Throughout the installation, Kentridge refers to a number of additional historical accounts in order to evoke multiple theories of time—a strategy that also poetically embodies a refusal of certainty and a resistance to an imposition of an imperialistic sense of order.

The “elephant” was inspired by plans from the 1870s for copper pneumatic tubes under the streets of Paris that would pump air to calibrate the city’s clocks. This reminded Kentridge of a passage from Charles Dickens’s novel Hard Times (1854), wherein the author describes factory machines as “moving monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness”—a metaphor for the often convulsive developments that accompany science and industry in the modern era and a reminder of the vain impulse to attempt control of one’s own time.

In its masterful execution, The Refusal of Time not only synthesizes a number of visual and filmic themes and performance-based strategies that have been at the heart of Kentridge’s oeuvre over the past decades, but also touches on the key styles of his vibrant moving-image work—including stop-motion animation of charcoal drawings, paper cutout figures, original live-action film, and techniques of reversing image and speed.

About William Kentridge

Kentridge was born in in 1955 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he still lives and works. He attended the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg from 1973 to 1976 and the Johannesburg Art Foundation from 1976 to 1978. Trained in painting and drawing, Kentridge also studied mime and theater at the École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris from 1981 to 1982. His long-standing interest in theater—from co-founding the Junction Avenue Theatre Company in the 1970s to his more recent collaborations with the Handspring Puppet Company since the 1990s—has greatly informed the character of his work.

Kentridge made his first animated film in 1985, and began achieving wide international recognition in the 1990s with a series of hand-drawn animations that the artist himself refers to as “drawings for projection.” He makes these projections using a distinctive technique in which he painstakingly creates, erases, and reworks charcoal drawings that are photographed and projected as moving images. Movement is generated within the image, by the artist’s hand; the camera serves merely to record its progression. As such, the animations explore a tension between material object and time-based performance, uniquely capturing the artist’s working process while telling poignant and often politically charged stories.

His art was widely introduced to American audiences in 2001 through a traveling retrospective—co-organized by Neal Benezra while at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 2009, SFMOMA Curator of Media Arts Rudolf Frieling oversaw the San Francisco presentation of the comprehensive survey William Kentridge: Five Themes, which was co-organized with the Norton Museum of Art and traveled to New York, Paris, Vienna, Jerusalem, Melbourne, and Moscow (2009–12). Debuting at SFMOMA, the exhibition brought viewers up to date on the artist’s work over the past decade, exploring how his subject matter has evolved from the specific context of South Africa to more universal stories. The exhibition also marked the U.S. premiere of eight film fragments made in preparation for Kentridge’s staging of Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera The Nose (2010). In conjunction with the 2009 exhibition, SFMOMA brought the artist’s multimedia opera The Return of Ulysses to San Francisco and presented his lecture-format solo performance I am not me, the horse is not mine.

Exhibiting widely since the 1980s, Kentridge has held solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1999); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. (2001); New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York (2001); Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (2002); Castello di Rivoli in Italy (2004); Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2004); Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin (2005); Museum of Modern Art in New York (2006); Moderna Museet in Stockholm (2007); and Philadelphia Museum of Art (2008); among other venues. He has participated in many group exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (1993 and 2005); Istanbul Biennial (1995); Biennale of Sydney (1996 and 2008); Documenta 6, 11, and 13 (1997, 2002, and 2012); and Bienal de São Paulo (1998); Carnegie International (1999); and Shanghai Biennale (2000).

Kentridge’s production of Shostakovich’s opera The Nose premiered in 2010 at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, where it is currently in repertory through October 26, 2013. His most recent gallery exhibition, William Kentridge: Second-hand Reading, is on view at the Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, also through Saturday, October 26, 2013.

William Kentridge in the Bay Area

In 2004, SFMOMA’s Painting and Sculpture department acquired Kentridge’s landmark animated film Tide Table (2003) and a suite of related drawings. A large charcoal self-portrait related to the film Medicine Chest (2000–1) entered the collection in 2009. A core group of major works in diverse media from the last decade are represented in the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, including the works on paper Bird Catcher (2006), Bird Catching (2006), and Heads (Self-Portrait) (Red) (Red/Gray) (Dark) (2007), and Drawing for II Sole 24 Ore (2007), the installation Larder (2007), and the anamorphic projection What Will Come (has already come) (2007). Also in the Fisher Collection as a co-owned work with SFMOMA is Preparing the Flute (2005), originally designed as a model for Kentridge’s stage production of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute (2005).

The Refusal of Time Credits

William Kentridge, The Refusal of Time, 2012

Five-channel video with sound, megaphones, and breathing machine (“elephant”); 30 min.; dimensions variable

William Kentridge’s The Refusal of Time is a collaboration with Peter Galison, Catherine Meyburgh, and Philip Miller, and is jointly owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

It was produced by Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris; Lia Rumma Gallery, Naples and Milan; and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town; and originally commissioned by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev for Documenta 13, Kassel, 2012.

Production Credits

Music and Soundscape
Movement Direction
Costume Design
Machine Design
Lighting Design
Sound Design and Mix

Philip Miller
William Kentridge and Catherine Meyburgh
Dada Masilo
Peter Galison
William Kentridge and Sabine Theunissen
Luc de Wit
Greta Goiris
Jonas Lundquist and Sabine Theunissen
Christoff Wolmarans and Louis Olivier
Urs Schoenebaum
Gavan Eckhart

Jill Lynch 415.357.4172
Clara Hatcher Baruth 415.357.4177 chatcher@sfmoma.org
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