Kentridge and Kudryashov: Against the Grain

October 3-January 2, 2010

Click here to read the exhibition catalogue.

William Kentridge, Sleeper Red, 1997 . Etching, aquatint, and drypoint
from 2 copper plates on Velin d’Arches Blanc 300 gsm paper,
38.2 x 76 inches. Collection of Janet W. Solinger. Photo by Greg Staley

Oleg Kudryashov, Soldier with Doll, 1991. Drypoint, watercolor,
gouache and charcoal, 41.2 x 56.3 inches.
Collection of Garth and Nataliya Trinkl, Washington, DC.
Photo by Greg Staley

In the fall of 2009, The Kreeger Museum presented an exhibition of works by South African artist, William Kentridge and Russian artist, Oleg Kudryashov. As two of the most significant printmakers in the world today, both artists use bold technical elements to express forceful imagery that comments directly and indirectly on important contemporary issues while exploring human values under totalitarian regimes. Though the printmakers have never met, this exhibition joined them together in a demonstration of the nature of thought and feelings in similarly repressive societies. Kentridge and Kudryashov: Against the Grain, on view October 3 – December 30, 2009, consisted of 40 to 50 works drawn from Washington area collectors.

“William Kentridge and Oleg Kudryashov share in their works a surprising commonality of interests: in media – love of drawing, film performance and installation; in style – use of figuration; in philosophy – understanding of the failures of utopian modernism; and in content – narrat ion about remembe ring and loss. Rooted clearly in their geographic birthplaces and political experiences, they have developed and worked on the periphery, at a distance from the centers of art. This is probably also why neither has had any real interest in current artistic trends whether in Western Europe or in North America. Their unique situations and direct observations of harsh political climates in their countries made them look for more personal means of expression. In other words, their own intense lived-through experiences of different yet equally oppressive political regimes unite Kudryashov and Kentridge in their quest to bear witness and to communicate the inflicted pain through the poetics of their art.”

-- Milena Kalinovska, from William Kentridge/Oleg Kudryashov, Points of Contact,” May 2002.

About the Artists

William Kentridge (b. 1955, Johannesburg, South Africa) was born to prominent, anti-apartheid lawyers. In the 1970s he studied politics, African Studies and joined art classes and drama workshops at the Johannesburg Art Foundation. Kentridge developed an interest in film and theatre, which he studied along with mime in Paris from 1981 to 1982. After returning to South Africa, he turned to drawing in 1984 and in 1989, began making a series of animated films, which as he said, would make his strong-felt drawings, “breathe.” His work was first exhibited in galleries that were at the center of the country’s artistic resistance to apartheid, and much of his earlier work criticizes the bourgeois lifestyle made possible by the social system. Rather than directly documenting the oppression of the black South Africans or the comparatively idyllic lives of the country’s white population, the figures in his work inhabit more subtle situations. He avoids the overly politically didactic, but rather explores and stresses poetical devices. This strategy enables him to communicate nuances through short lyrical narratives, reflecting the depth of feelings of humans drawn into the drama of a cruel contemporary history. It is the sophisticated renderings of the subjects in his prints, drawings and animated films that gives his entire oeuvre the breadth of accomplishment and singularity which is hard to ignore, but also hard to follow. The artist states, “I have never been able to escape Johannesburg. The four houses I have lived in, my school, studio, have all been within three kilometers of each other. And in the end, all my work is rooted in this rather desperate provincial city. I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings and films are certainly spawned by and fed off, the brutalized society left in its wake.”

Using etching, aquatint, drypoint and monoprint, Kentridge’s deeply profound and layered work engages the issues of the human condition on both specific and more general levels. As with other great printmakers of social conscience, such as Goya, Callot and Kollwitz, while the ostensible subject matter may seem contemporary, there are always undertones of timelessness in his themes. His prints often involve creating, erasing, recreating and revising an image many times in a search for the myriad expressive possibilities in the changing contexts of his work – each is uniquely endowed with a dramatic intensity rare in contemporary graphics.

Washington area collectors realized the power of Kentridge’s work early in his career and have been collecting his prints for more than 10 years. In addition, his work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. His work on exhibit at the Kreeger will date from 1986 to the present, including aquatint, drypoint, engraving, etching, linocut, lithograph techniques, often in combination. Kentridge’s prints are rich in layering, most often restricted to black and white, with color accents added to select images.

The exhibition, William Kentridge: Five Themes, originally opened at SFMOMA, is currently traveling to the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas and the Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach Florida. The final venue be the Museum of Modern Art in New York in spring 2010, concurrent with the opening of ­“The Nose”, Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol, at the Metropolitan Opera, for which Kentridge designed the sets.

Oleg Kudryashov (b.1932, Moscow, Russia) began studying art in 1942 in his native city of Moscow. He first trained at the State Art Studies (IZO) and then at the Moscow Art School, graduating in 1951. He was enlisted in the army from 1953 to 1956 and was employed in a film studio from 1956 to 1958. In 1974, he immigrated to London, England, where he remained until returning permanently to Moscow in 1997. As he matured and his career progressed, his travels allowed him to experience a broad array of art previously unfamiliar to him during his days as a student. While the avant-garde art of the 1910s and 1920s, especially Russian Constructivism, became a central aspect of his print work from 1978 onward, he was equally dedicated to a broader and even earlier strain of Russian art centering on the Lubok artists who from the 18th century onwards produced popular prints for the Russian masses.

Whether working in a more formal constructivist vein or a more representational style, Kudryashov’s is always rooted in everyday life and the environment – the industrial landscape of a city and the life of the deprived. The materials he employs are simple and traditional: hand press, burin, steel, brush, industrial cutters and industrial zinc plate – which the artist loves because it is “coarse and unfriendly.” Instead of making preliminary drawings, he works directly on the zinc plate, using engraving needles to joust, while moving it around with quick, abrupt movements. The artist sees it as “jumping inside the plate and drawing from the inside out.” This aggressive working method is the main reason Kudryashov uses zinc since any less resistant surface could not withstand the process. He often applies watercolor, gouache, charcoal or chalk to the paper before it is printed. He does not let the physical dimensions of the press restrict his vision or the final artwork. After drawing the image, he will cut the metal into pieces to fit the press, later reassembling the printed sheets into a modified version of the original image. A single work can consist of as many as twenty sheets of paper and reach 15 feet in length. Kudyrashov’s work has been collected avidly throughout the Washington area by private patrons since 1982. His graphic output is represented in public collections including the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

About the Curators

Eric Denker is a Senior Lecturer in the Education Department of the National Gallery of Art

Christopher B. With is the Coordinating Curator of AA Information in the Department of Education Resources at the National Gallery of Art


The Kreeger Museum gratefully acknowledges the generosity of the following sponsors:

Joel Alper, Potomac, MD (in memory of Irving Goldstein, husband, father, friend)
Joshua and Lisa Bernstein,Washington, DC
Gallery Schlesinger Limited, New York, NY
GlaxoSmithKline, Columbia, MD
Susan Goldstein, New York, NY (in memory of Irving Goldstein, husband, father, friend)
Wolfgang Mueller, Bethesda, MD (in memory of Trudi Edwards)
Jean-Paul and Norsiah Pinard,Washington, DC
Vivian Pollock, Chevy Chase, MD
Mark Regulinski and Alisa Lange,Washington, DC
Kenneth Schaner, Bethesda, MD
Isabelle Schirmer and Thierry Baudon, London, UK
Stanley Snider, Chestnut Hill, MA
The Sperduto Law Firm, PLC,Washington, DC
Neil Turtell, Arlington, VA

InKind Gifts:
Dodge-Chrome,Washington, DC
Global Arts Network, Arlington, VA
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, NY
Michael Gross, Bethesda, MD
Russia House,Washington, DC
The Embassy of the Russian Federation,Washington, DC

The exhibition catalogue was generously funded by the Okun family.

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