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October 06, 2021

National Gallery of Art Acquires Video by William Kentridge in Historic Joint Purchase with Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

William Kentridge, Still from "City Deep", 2020

William Kentridge
Still from City Deep, 2020
single-channel digital video, black and white animation with color additions, sound, 9:15 minutes
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Purchased jointly by the National Gallery of Art, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery © William Kentridge

Washington, DC—The National Gallery of Art announced today the acquisition of its first video by William Kentridge (b. 1955) in a historic joint purchase with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. City Deep (2020) is the eleventh video in the cycle that Kentridge devoted to his antihero Soho Eckstein, a mining magnate with a love of art. This work joins several others by Kentridge in the collection, including a set of prints given by Thomas G. Klarner in 2005 and Portage (2000), a leperello (accordion-fold book) donated by the Collectors Committee, Sylvia K. Greenberg, and Cathryn Dickert Scoville in 2014.

"William Kentridge brings all the ambiguity and subtlety of his lived experience to subjects that are too often defined in stark and simple terms. Using film, drawing, sculpture, animation, and performance, he transforms tragic social realities into powerful poetic allegories," said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art. "In a historic moment for the National Gallery of Art, City Deep is our first joint purchase with another institution. We are thrilled to be able to work with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to share and expand the reach of this memorable and timely work."

"William Kentridge records the world around him with a profound humanism, using his superb draftsmanship and theatrical sensibility to create works of art that speak to the complexity of the human condition, recording in equal measure the horror and cruelty of injustice as well as the potential for joy and beauty in human creativity," said Gary Tinterow, director, the Margaret Alkek Williams Chair, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "We are pleased to join with the National Gallery of Art to provide the opportunity for visitors to both museums to experience this meditation on the role of art and museums in society, and to enlarge our holdings of Kentridge's work."

City Deep (2020)

City Deep explores the physical and historical environment of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. As the video begins, rows of anonymous modern apartment blocks provide a bleak backdrop, while in front, sunken train tracks carve a gash in the landscape. The art gallery is surrounded by disused shafts worked by the so-called zama-zama miners hoping to strike a bit of overlooked gold. As Soho Eckstein, the pin-striped mining magnate, contemplates the works of art in the gallery and daydreams of past loves, the boundary between the museum and the mine dissolves: a shaft opens in the floor of the gallery and the paintings on the wall transform. In a climactic moment, Soho, confronted with the racist and settler-colonialist sources of his wealth and culture, locks eyes with a miner, after which the museum falls to dust.

Depicting the city of Kentridge's youth and of his imagination, the video's stop-action animations are drawn, erased, and redrawn in charcoal with red-ink accents characteristic of his signature style. The pentimenti, or shadows of erased charcoal left when a figure moves across the screen, serve as a metaphor for a haunted past that can never be denied. Kentridge states: "The smudges of erasure thicken time in the film, but they also serve as a record of the days and months spent making the film—a record of thinking in slow motion."

William Kentridge (b. 1955)

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1955, Kentridge works in many media but is best known for his animated films. His parents were lawyers who represented people marginalized by the apartheid system. Educated at King Edward VII School in Houghton, Johannesburg, he showed great artistic promise from an early age. After devoting himself to politics and African studies in college, he went to Paris to pursue mime and theater before finding his calling during a creative crisis as a draftsman. He began to turn these drawings into films in 1978. These films came to the attention of the art world in 1997 at documenta X, the contemporary art exhibition held every five years in Kassel, Germany. While his work has since expanded to embrace sculpture, prints, books, and opera productions such as The Magic Flute, The Nose, and Wozzeck, Kentridge's handmade videos remain the core of his art.

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