The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today the joint acquisition of South African artist William Kentridge’s major multimedia installation "The Refusal of Time (2012)." This marks the first major collaboration between two leading U.S. museums,
"The Refusal of Time" is among Kentridge’s most complex and ambitious work to date, incorporating both sculptural and kinetic elements in an immersive multi-projection environment.
When SFMOMA’s expansion project is complete and the museum reopens to the public in 2016, 'The Refusal of Time" will join an extensive body of works by Kentridge already in or promised to SFMOMA’s collection as well as in the renowned Doris and Donald Fisher Collection—35 artworks in total, including videos, works on paper, and other major multimedia installations, making SFMOMA home to one of the best representations of the artist’s mature work.
“Refusal of Time offers viewers a powerful multisensory experience that builds upon Kentridge’s history of creating humanistic, politically urgent, and truly extraordinary hybrid work,” says SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, who co-curated a traveling Kentridge retrospective in 2001, one of the first exhibitions to widely introduce the artist’s work to U.S. audiences. “SFMOMA is thrilled to collaborate with the Met on joint stewardship of this important work, which furthers our broader vision to be an international showcase for the most boundary-pushing art of our time.”
William Kentridge’s installations of recent years are particularly notable for their skillful integration of moving image, sound, sculptural elements, and theater to provide the viewer with an experience virtually unparalleled in other recent time-based practice. His work in all media—drawings, video projections, prints, performance—deftly combines visually seductive imagery with probing explorations of the interwoven histories of science, colonialism, and globalization, as well as the ephemeral nature of both personal and cultural memory.
Commissioned originally for Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, "The Refusal of Time"(2012) comprises five separate video channels that are projected around the room and a layered soundscape by the renowned South African composer Philip Miller, which emits from various megaphones, each with a different soundtrack. Central to the work is a large kinetic sculpture—the “breathing machine” or “elephant”—an organ-like automaton with a pumping bellows.
For the video projections, Kentridge collaborated with choreographers, filmmakers, and stage designers to create animations and live-action sequences, including the final “shadow procession” that ends the 30-minute work.
Kentridge’s recent interest in the nature of time was given focus through the work of Harvard-based historian of science Peter Galison, who studied Albert Einstein’s experiments with the measurement of time through telegraphs and the synchronization of clocks at national railway stations. In Galison’s view, Einstein’s work converged with that of Henri Poincaré, the late-19th-century French mathematician and president of the Bureau des Longitudes, who developed global time zone maps at the dawn of the 20th century.
Both scientists were forced to face the radical idea that, in a newly industrialized and interconnected world, time was relative and not absolute. Throughout the installation, Kentridge refers to a number of additional historical accounts in order to evoke multiple theories of time—a strategy that also artistically embodies a refusal of certainty and a resistance to an imposition of a rigidly linear sense of order.
"The Refusal of Time" synthesizes a number of visual and filmic themes, and performance-based strategies that have been at the heart of Kentridge’s work over the past decades. The installation piece also touches on the key styles of his moving-image work—including stop-motion animation of charcoal drawings, paper cutout figures, original live-action film, and techniques of reversing image and speed.