Critics’ Picks

View of “William Kentridge: Second-hand Reading,” 2013.

View of “William Kentridge: Second-hand Reading,” 2013.

New York

William Kentridge

Marian Goodman Gallery | New York
24 West 57th Street
September 17–October 26, 2013

‘Tis the season for William Kentridge, whose newest work makes for an expansive show in a diverse array of mediums including kinetic sculpture, a beguiling addition to the artist’s catholic output. These eight contraptions, some incorporating the familiar motif of megaphones, are planted around the first room and rigged to sing African children’s songs. One, Untitled (Singer Choir/Chorus), 2013, is a table of Singer sewing machines, which when cranked give the impression of a factory of voices serenading you. Surrounding the sculptures are eleven large collaged drawings of stately trees indigenous to southern Africa; the artist’s broad ink brushstrokes are emboldened by a clamoring background of fine-print text from the encyclopedia pages they’re drawn on. Sprinkled with capitalized phrases such as “MEETING THE PAGE HALFWAY” or “WHAT CALLS TO BE DRAWN,” the drawings perform marvelously as both images and poems liberated from their pages.

Throughout there is a formal, playful confusion between looking and reading, best exemplified by two animations: a flat screen triptych, No, It Is, 2012, depicting figurative gestures morphing into abstract shapes, drawings from which are also displayed in grids on adjacent walls, and Second-Hand Reading, 2013, also the title of the exhibition itself. In the latter work, leaves of an old volume serve as a playing field for hand-drawn sequences ranging from sketches of the artist himself slowly pacing to a figure waving flags, and to rapid-fire ink renderings of typewriters, birds, and solitary landscapes, all intermingled with flashes of phrases echoing the first room’s drawings. These careen across the spread of text, intermixed with a sound track by Neo Muyanga. Here, Kentridge posits the book as a shape-shifting torrent of picture and word, discursive rather than definitive, a site of potential and discovery, perhaps as a reminder of our own agency. His best work always has a sense of existing in the realm of fantastic possibility—this show no exception.