Article on “William Kentridge – The Nose”. Exhibition features an artwork that forms part of the SAFFCA Collection

William Kentridge – The Nose

The South African artist William Kentridge (b. 1955 in Johannesburg) is one of the most highly regarded artists of our time. Museum Haus Konstruktiv is presenting this exceptional artist’s first comprehensive solo exhibition to be held in Switzerland. Here, the focus is on the multimedia cycle of works entitled “The Nose”, which is based on the eponymous surreal short story written by Nikolai Gogol in 1836.

In 2006, the Metropolitan Opera in New York commissioned William Kentridge to stage Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera of the same name (first performed in 1930 in Leningrad). In this context, a series of works were produced, which can be categorized as visual art, theater, dramaturgy and film. In addition to the large-scale video installation “I am not me, the horse is not mine”, which has previously been shown, for instance, at London’s Tate Modern in 2012, Museum Haus Konstruktiv is also exhibiting a number of little-known drawings, prints, paintings, sculptures and tapestries. Kentridge himself describes this work-complex as an elegy for the artistic language of the Russian constructivists and their stimuli for social transformation.

In Gogol’s story, Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov of St. Petersburg notices, one morning, that his nose has disappeared. Startled, he sets off to find it again. He walks the streets of the city, discovers his nose, and follows it into a cathedral. When he speaks to it, it rejects him. Moreover, it is wearing the uniform of a State Councilor and thus has a higher position in the political system than Kovalyov himself. When the nose is arrested on route to Riga and handed back to its owner, it still resists. However, Kovalyov awakes on another morning to find his nose back in its original place again.

In Gogol’s story, the absurd becomes normality and is treated as such. To no small extent, this is why Shostakovich embraced this story – as well as because of its potential for being read as a depiction of the state of affairs in Russia at the end of the 1920s. From 1917 onward, Russian artists organized themselves in various associations, in order to take a stand against the dominance of academicism. Their enthusiasm for the revolution was pervaded by hope for a liberation of the individual from the old system. For those artists described as futurist, constructivist or suprematist, the only possible form of art was one that was detached from representation of the object, or completely autonomous, because this was the only art that could embody the new socio-political concepts without referring to something else that existed outside the work. Non-representational art could be neither metaphor nor allegory. The talk was of “pure” art that arose from its own means. Thus, a revolution in form was placed alongside the revolution in politics.

In “The Nose”, William Kentridge draws on the constructivist language of forms, as well as the socio-political developments in Russia during that time. He makes these a core theme of his artistic engagement, researching an era characterized by new beginnings, which was abruptly ended when Stalin came to power.

Kentridge’s oeuvre is also known for its political dimension. Having grown up in South Africa during apartheid, with a father who represented Nelson Mandela as a lawyer, he is quite familiar with socio-political upheaval, uprisings, human rights issues, and the interweaving of politics with art. Russia’s cultural and political upheaval before and after the revolution is also of interest to him against this backdrop.

With his sometimes animated drawings, his films, and his theater productions, Kentridge has fascinated the artworld for many years. His exhibition at Museum Haus Konstruktiv is a premiere in more ways than one: on the occasion of his 60th birthday, we are hosting Switzerland’s first solo exhibition dedicated to this artist. With his cycle of works, we take a look at an epoch that gave rise to Russian constructivism, which in turn served as a reference and paradigm for the Zurich concretists.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with essays by William Kentridge, Jane Taylor and Sabine Schaschl, published by “Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König”.

Curated by Sabine Schaschl

This exhibition is generously supported by: Art Mentor Foundation. Further main sponsor: Barclays. Patronage of the exhibition: ewz. We also thank Max Kohler Stiftung, Hulda und Gustav Zumsteg-Stiftung, Dr. Georg und Josi Guggenheim-Stiftung, Volkart Stiftung.

Opening hours Tues 11 am – 5 pm, Wed 11 am – 8 pm, Thur-Sun 11 am – 5 pm

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‘William Kentridge- The Nose’. likeyou artnetwork <>


William Kentridge ‘Untitled (Horse on Map)’ Drawing for the opera ‘The Nose’ (2010) Acrylic, indian ink and watercolour on canvas, Privately owned, SAFFCA Collection