Critics’ Picks

View of “A Universal Archive,” 2012–13.

View of “A Universal Archive,” 2012–13.


William Kentridge

The Bluecoat
School Lane
December 7, 2012–February 3, 2013

Many of the one hundred works in “A Universal Archive,” William Kentridge’s first major UK retrospective of his prints, which is organized by Hayward Touring, relate to the operas and films for which the artist is well known, such as the thirty etchings on view from The Nose, 2007–10, a production he staged at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2010. Nevertheless, this assembling affirms that Kentridge’s printmaking practice exists not as a supplement to his performance work, but instead as a parallel mode to it. This idea is made most explicit in Kentridge’s portfolio of eight etchings “Ubu Tells the Truth,” 1996–97. Rosalind Krauss aptly observes in her essay for the show’s accompanying catalogue that the wiping of the plate, the pressure of the printing press, and the quality of the paper destabilize the series as multiples and reposition the works as unique drawings.

The accumulation of these static prints begins to resemble a sequence of moving images in “Universal Archive Cat Assemblage A, B, C and D,” 2012, a four-part series using torn pages from the Encyclopaedia Britannica over which Kentridge draws a cat in quick strokes of black ink. Not surprisingly, Kentridge has in the past expressed an affinity with George Méliès, which is apparent in the films 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès and Journey to the Moon, both 2003, which both evoke the stop-motion illusory effects associated with the pioneering early filmmaker. In Kentridge’s current exhibition, the influence of cinematic montage is accordingly articulated in a group of one dozen prints of Italian stovetop espresso makers—a work the artist describes as an anthropomorphic self-portrait—titled Universal Archive (Twelve Coffee Pots), 2012. For this piece, Kentridge used blunt, loose brushstrokes of black ink to apply the image of a coffee pot onto the pages of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. The drawings were then transferred to linoleum plates, and the prints made with these plates are here hung in a progression of four prints per row. In each of the twelve, Kentridge employs fewer markings to render the device, so that by the last, we see only an implication of its form, like a fading animation.