Art notes: SFMOMA, Kentridge, Shettar, First Thursday

This was a rather art-intensive weekend, even by our recent standards at CatSynth., spanning Thursday through Sunday. This article will only touch on a few items.

At an unplanned visit to SFMOMA, I encountered for the first time work of William Kentridge. Kentridge is a South African artist working with stop-motion films, multimedia, dance and theatre. His work spans from whimsical to overtly political, often dealing with themes from both South Africa and the region. My initial impression of Kentridge’s work from the exhibition ads and the first passing glance at the gallery were mixed. The figures in his earlier animations, such as Soho and Felix are caricatures, with squat bodies and exaggerated features, are usually not that inviting to me. But one can quickly see the immense time and skill that went into these works, which are made from a sequence of charcoal drawings. And having seen the craft, I started to notice the art, and able to step away from the figures themselves to see the mixture of film, animation and music at a more abstract level. His later works, such as 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès, Journey to the Moon, and Day for Night, allow for a more abstract viewing, and also introduce his self portraits and self-deprecating sense of humor. Set on six screens, I moved between abstract animations of star and insect movements, and the artist spilling coffee onto his blank paper.

Probably the most interesting was his newest piece, I am not me, the horse is not mine, 2008, loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose. There was of course a partly live-acted, partly animated nose as the “star”, but also other elements depicting the demise of the Russian avant-garde under Soviet rule, and elements mixing abstraction and Soviet-style realism, with muted color fields, geometry and text. There was also an interlude of South African choral music for good measure. I wish I had been in town for the performance and lecture last month.

The final works, based on Mozart’s The Magic Flute, were the most elaborate, with video projects based on archival film, animations and stills projected into wooden stages with live mechanized shadow puppets. It was clear that the audience was transfixed in a way I usually don’t see for multimedia and video presentations in an art gallery.

This is probably worth going back to see in more detail. I simply did not have the time to stay and watch every video and animation.


Also at SFMOMA were some exhibitions I had seen but not written about previously, including the portrait photography exhibit Face of Our Time. I usually don’t go for straight-out portrait work, but these mostly large images worked in the context of the other exhibits at the museum.

I did take note of the abstract and whimsical sculpture of Ranjani Shettar. Her work combines modern technologies and traditional Indian craft techniques, but with none of the nostalgia or adherence to cultural stereotypes that often dominates Indian art, at least as it is presented in this country. Her sculptures do have a very naturalistic quality, reminiscent of much contemporary work in the western U.S.


Last Thursday was also the First Thursday open galleries in downtown San Francisco for April (this year is going by so fast, isn’t it?). I should first recognize Trevor Paglen, who was showing both at SFMOMA as a SECA Art Award recipient, and at the Altman Siegel Gallery. It is quite a coincidence to see the same artist at two venues in a single week.

Perhaps my favorite show was Ema H Sintamarian at the Jack Fischer Gallery. Her drawings/paintings consisted of surreal, curving architectural elements, with an almost cartoonish quality. Bright colors and shapes against a white background.

The show by South African artist Lyndi Sales was intricate and very meticulous, work digital cuttings of found and printed objects – it was also a poignant tribute to her father’s death in the Hederberg crash.

Portraits seem to sneak their way into many of my experiences this week, with Gao Yuan’s “12 Moons”, a series of photographs with a Chinese take on the “Madonna and Child” theme. She was featured at MOCA Shanghai last year in 2008 (MOCA was of course closed the main weekend I was there).

Susan Grossman presented chalk and pastel drawings of photographs, that quickly revealed themselves to be familiar scenes of San Francisco. The black-and-white coloring and soft edges also serve as a fitting close to an article that begin with the soft charcoal drawings of William Kentridge, even if the subject matter could not be more different.

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5 Responses to “Art notes: SFMOMA, Kentridge, Shettar, First Thursday”

  1. Konferens Nilsson Says:

    I really love the Soho and Felix caricatures but i guess the taste is different from person to person. Thanks for a great blog Cat!

  2. obsidiankitten Says:

    i love stop action film work. I wonder if the Kentridge exhibition is coming to NY,,,

  3. JamericanSpice Says:

    I would have loved to have seen these. I must visit a museum of art to quench my artsy thirst. You write this so very well.

  4. Kitty Says:

    I wish there are more art shows near where I live.

    Am I seeing things, or does the drawing of a man looks like the guy sitting in that chair?

  5. CatSynth Says:

    Yes, Kentridge does a lot of work with self portraits. Some or realistic, like the one in the photo, some are more stylized or caricatured.