Critics’ Picks

Robert Hodgins, Sarge, 2007, lithograph, 19 3/4 x 15 11/16".

Robert Hodgins, Sarge, 2007, lithograph, 19 3/4 x 15 11/16".

New York

“Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now”

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
March 23–August 29, 2011

Inexpensive to produce and reproduce, easy to transport and diffuse, prints have long flourished as a medium of political disaffection. This was certainly the case in South Africa, whose restless history of papery protest is charted in this compact printmaking survey. Apartheid’s excesses of power––often creatively conceived in these works as an animalization of the human––emerge in one of Jo Ractcliffe’s sutured photolithographs of windswept, baying hounds. They also appear in Norman Catherine’s hand-colored etchings of ragged-toothed warlords, quadrupedal policemen, and taloned creatures of the night. Catherine’s monstrous officers, their peaked caps flowing into simian fur, preside here with other brutish sergeants: Robert Hodgins’s neckless Sarge, 2007, and William Kentridge’s glassy-eyed General, 1993.

In this exhibition of work drawn wholly from MoMA’s collections, the apartheid-era pieces are organized by medium into four subsets––posters, linocuts, intaglio, and photo-based prints––with the show then opening onto a final vista of postapartheid “impressions.” Especially in the latter section, curator Judy Hecker situates her exhibition less as staging a graphic canon than as presenting a partial and somewhat idiosyncratic “impression” of South African printmaking, one shaped by the museum’s patchy history of collecting. While choices like John Muafangejo, Azaria Mbatha, Dan Rakgoathe, and Kentridge hew closely to established lineages, three major works by Cameron Platter are unorthodox selections, as is Moshekwa Langa’s contribution, which is not included in the exhibition itself but displayed in an adjacent space.

An assemblage of black trash bags and maps cobbled together with jazzy daubs of electric tape, Langa’s Suburban Metro Lines, 2000, mines the artist’s peripatetic travels between Europe and his native South Africa. As such, it not only challenges prevailing boundaries of printmaking but also unravels the very conceit of the nation under which these artists are gathered. Equally gesturing to more fluid conceptions of place is the show’s closing work by Kudzanai Chiurai, a Zimbabwean currently based in Johannesburg, whose graffitied silhouettes of Robert Mugabe’s henchmen surfaced on the city’s downtown walls in 2008. Once again, these wandering images register printmaking’s expanded field. But they also point to the (breathlessly accelerated) institutionalization of what once passed for political critique.