…a kaleidoscope of references with deep intellectual rigor..."
"Death, be not proud . . ."
The Refusal of Time is South African artist William Kentridge's most intellectually complex, moving, and magisterial work to date—and the first of his multimedia installations to enter the Museum's collection. His work in all formats—drawings, video, prints, performance—deftly combines visually seductive imagery with probing explorations of the interwoven and often painful histories of science, humanism, colonialism, and globalization. Kentridge's installations of recent years are particularly strong in their skillful use of image, sound, moving parts, and enthralling narrative; the very best of them, such as this one, evoke a kaleidoscope of references with deep intellectual rigor.
Kentridge was born in 1955 in Johannesburg, where he still lives and works. After attending a school for drama, he was active throughout the 1970s and '80s in theater and television production. By the 1990s—coinciding with the abolition of apartheid—Kentridge's live theater work, as well as the stop-motion, animated films he made from his own charcoal drawings, attracted an increasingly international audience. The Met began collecting his drawings and prints in depth in the early 2000s.
The Refusal of Time is essentially a room-sized, filmic machine—a mechanized Plato's cave in which five video projections surround the viewer and the whole seems to be run by a pumping, organlike sculpture at center. Through a series of half-hour episodes, Kentridge intersperses images of antiquated devices for measuring time (e.g., a metronome or a bellows purported to send pneumatic bursts of air under the streets of Paris for the calibration of official city clocks) with animated drawings and live-action sequences. These vignettes recall a time at the dawn of the last century when Einstein's early experiments with station clocks and telegraphs mirrored other attempts at ordering the world through measurement. They also evoke the more contemporary study of black holes, beyond whose threshold all matter may disappear forever. In the last sequence of The Refusal of Time, as a procession of shadowy silhouettes travels around the room to a driving soundtrack only to be enveloped in blackness, a powerful question remains: after we, too, pass that dark threshold, will there be any trace of us left behind?
Department of Modern and Contemporary Art