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October 06, 2021

Acquisition: William Kentridge

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

The National Gallery of Art has acquired 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.

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."

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