Two new exhibits with South African themes open tomorrow at The Jewish Museum. One of these is a retrospective of Jewish South African photographer David Goldblatt, and the other is a series of films by Jewish South African artist William Kentridge that depict his drawings of the fictional Jewish characters Soho Eckstein and Felix Teitelbaum. The three Jewish Museum exhibits that I plugged in my March 11, 2010 article continue and will overlap with the new exhibits for the next three months.
On Tuesday, May 4th at 6:30 pm, photographer David Goldblatt will be joined by Joseph Lelyveld, former New York Times executive editor and correspondent in South Africa , for a conversation about the exhibition, South African Photographs: David Goldblatt. OnThursday, May 13th at 6:30 pm, Gideon Shimoni, Professor (Emeritus) at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and author of Community and Conscience: The Jews in SouthAfrica, will present a lecture entitled The Jewish Experience in Apartheid South Africa. Tickets to each program are $15 general public; $12 students and those over 65; and $10 for Jewish Museum members. For further information regarding programs at The Jewish Museum, the public may call 212.423.3337. Prices: General: $15; Students / Over 65: $12 Members: $10 Program tickets may be purchased online at the Museum’s website.
South African Photographs: David Goldblatt
The Jewish Museum will present South African Photographs: David Goldblatt, an exhibition of 150 black-and-white silver gelatin prints taken between 1948 and 2009, from May 2 through September 19, 2010. The photographs on view focus on South Africa ’s human landscape in the apartheid and post-apartheid eras. South African Photographs: David Goldblatt is the largest New York City exhibition of Goldblatt’s work since 2001.
For more than half a century, David Goldblatt has been photographing his native South Africa , documenting the social, cultural and economic divides that characterize the country. Recipient of the 2009 Henri Cartier-Bresson Award and the prestigious 2006 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography, David Goldblatt is his country’s most distinguished photographer.
Goldblatt’s photographs expose the complex and evolving nature of apartheid through the diversity and subtlety of his approach. He has not documented major political events or horrifying incidents of violence. Instead, he focuses on the details of daily life and the world of ordinary people, a world where the apartheid system penetrates every aspect of society. He is constantly searching for the substance beneath the surface of human situations. As Nadine Gordimer comments in the exhibition audio guide, Goldblatt captures “…these moments when everything that has happened to an individual is somehow in that image at that time. All the person has felt and known is contained, indeed, in the way he comports himself, the way he’s sitting, the way he looks, and the kind of setting in which he is.” Goldblatt frequently addresses a complex question in his work: how is it possible to be reasonable, decent, and law-abiding, and at the same time, complicit in and even actively supportive of a system that is fundamentally immoral and evil? Each photograph in this exhibition is an intimate portrayal of a culture living with racism and injustice.
David Goldblatt has used his camera to explore South Africa’s mines; the descendants of seventeenth-century Dutch settlers called Afrikaners who were the architects of apartheid; life in Boksburg, a small middle-class white community; the Bantustans or “puppet states” in which blacks were forced to live; structures built for purposes ranging from shelter to commemoration; and Johannesburg, the city in which Goldblatt lives.
The photographer once wrote, “I am neither an activist nor a missionary. Yet I had begun to realize an involvement with this place and the people among whom I lived that would not be stilled and that I needed to grasp and probe. I wanted to explore the specifics of our lives, not in theories but in the grit and taste and touch of things, and to bring those specifics into that particular coherence that the camera both enables and demands.”
David Goldblatt has been photographing the changing political landscape of his country for more than five decades. He is descended from Lithuanian Jews who fled Europe in the 1890s to escape religious persecution. His father passed on to him, the artist said, “a strong sense of outrage at anything that smacked of racism.” Growing up in segregated South Africa , he witnessed the deep humiliation and discrimination suffered by blacks and experienced anti-Semitism personally. These experiences have informed his work.
Goldblatt’s written commentary is an essential part of his work and is presented throughout the exhibition in the texts and labels that accompany the photographs. A context room in the exhibition features a timeline juxtaposing events in South African history and David Goldblatt’s life; books published by the photographer; photography magazines that inspired him; a large map of South Africa; and a 22-minute excerpt of David Goldblatt: In Black and White, a 1985 film originally aired on Channel 4 Television in Great Britain.
The exhibition has been organized by The Jewish Museum’s Senior Curator, Susan Tumarkin Goodman. All the works in the exhibition are silver gelatin prints on fiber-pressed paper.
Produced by The Jewish Museum in association with Acoustiguide, Inc., a random access audio guide using MP3 technology has been created for the South African Photographs: David Goldblatt exhibition. Available to visitors for $5.00, it features an introduction by The Jewish Museum’s Director Joan Rosenbaum. Visitors taking the audio guide will hear from David Goldblatt, who continues to lecture and talk about his body of work even as he produces compelling new images, as well as Nadine Gordimer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, who has been writing about the racial and political complexities of South Africa for more than 50 years and is a close friend of David Goldblatt. Commentary by Sean Jacobs, a Professor of International Affairs at the New School who was born in South Africa in 1969, is also included.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg has published a related 200-page book with 150 black and white plates, Kith, Kin & Khaya: South African Photographs: David Goldblatt, which is available at The Jewish Museum’s Cooper Shop for $40.00. In its introduction, writer and critic Ingrid Sischy writes, “A highly sophisticated, even strict, sense of aesthetics, combined with a rigorous moral stance about what it means to take somebody’s photograph, is what sets Goldblatt’s work apart.” She also observes that “the glue that holds this broad body of work together is a mix of Goldblatt’s highly attuned eye and his razor-sharp mind. His photographs are objects of thought, as much as they’re objects to behold.”
About David Goldblatt
David Goldblatt was born in 1930, the youngest of the three sons of Eli and Olga Goldblatt. His grandparents arrived in South Africa from Lithuania around 1893, having fled the persecution of Jews in the Baltic countries. David’s paternal grandfather owned a general store in Randfontein, a gold-mining town near Johannesburg . Eli Goldblatt built the business into a respected men’s clothing store and for some years David assisted with the running of the shop when his father’s poor health necessitated it. But he was only biding his time. He had become interested in photography in high school, and after his father’s death in 1962, he sold the business to devote all of his time to being a photographer.
David Goldblatt’s works are held in many collections, including the Johannesburg Art Gallery ; the Museum of Modern Art , New York ; the Stedelijk Museum , Amsterdam ; the Victoria and Albert Museum , London ; the French National Art Collection; and the Bibliothèque National de France. He has published several books, including On the Mines, with Nadine Gordimer (1973); Some Afrikaners Photographed (1975); In Boksburg (1982); Lifetimes: Under Apartheid, with Nadine Gordimer (1986); The Transported of KwaNdebele with Brenda Goldblatt and Phillip van Niekerk (1989); South Africa: The Structure of Things Then (1998); Particulars (2003); Intersections (2005); Some Afrikaners Revisited (2007); and Intersections Intersected (2008).
South African Projections: Films by William Kentridge
The Jewish Museum will present South African Projections: Films by William Kentridgefrom May 2 through September 19, 2010. South African William Kentridge’s work is internationally acclaimed for its dramatic qualities and for the artist’s extraordinary techniques. Using his literary savvy, theatrical background, and political insight, the artist creates allegories about apartheid. Charcoal drawings by Kentridge are successively revised, erased, redrawn, photographed, and presented as film. Four short animated films from the series, Drawings for Projection, 1989-91, part of The Jewish Museum’s permanent collection, will be on view. The films – Johannesburg—2nd Greatest City after Paris ; Mine; Monument; and Sobriety, Obesity and Growing Old – revolve around two fictional Jewish characters, the bloated industrialist Soho Eckstein and the vulnerable artist Felix Teitelbaum. These protagonists embody the social, political, and moral legacy of apartheid.
In the first three films, the viewer sees Soho Eckstein, the voracious, ruthless, self-indulgent industrialist (modeled after Kentridge’s grandfather), shown as a stocky tyrant, his pinstripe suit worn as armor. Eckstein is shown amassing power and wealth at the expense of exploited black South Africans. He indulges his appetites, disregards his wife, abuses his workers, and devastates the South African landscape. Felix Teitelbaum, the artist dreamer and a reflection of Kentridge himself, appears circumspect and vulnerable. In the fourth film, the thoughtful Felix wins the heart of Mrs. Eckstein, though she returns to her husband, the first instance in which Eckstein begins to show pangs of remorse. Together, the two antagonists enact the uncomfortable ironies of a white Jewish minority, with its own memories of social injustice, in a privileged position in a racist society.
The films are hand drawn in a process Kentridge calls “Stone Age.” Capitalizing on his masterful draftsmanship, he creates large-scale charcoal drawings which he then erases and redraws, filming them in the process of transformation. Erasures leave traces of what has been, adding to the strange melancholy with which the films are imbued. Things restlessly and ingeniously morph into other things. The wounded and dying melt into the South African landscape, a cat turns into a machine, its tail into a handle, a coffee pot morphs into a tube that descends into the depths of a mine shaft. In the fourth film, the two antagonists also begin to meld, physically and psychologically, into each other. For Kentridge there are neither heroes nor innocents in the physical and social devastation of apartheid, only victims.
Kentridge’s moral perspective is rooted in his family history. His ancestors emigrated to South Africa from Lithuania in the Russian Empire, to escape anti-Semitism and the pogroms. His father, Sydney Kentridge, was a prominent anti-apartheid lawyer in the most significant political trials of apartheid-era South Africa , representing the families of the Sharpeville victims, investigating Stephen Biko’s death, and participating in the Nelson Mandela trials.
William Kentridge (born 1955) is a versatile artist who is also an actor, director, set designer, sculptor, puppeteer, and printmaker. A large-scale exhibition, William Kentridge: Five Themes, was organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2009 and opened at the Museum of Modern Art in February 2010. His staging and design of Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Nose premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in March 2010. Kentridge has had major exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2008); Moderna Museet, Stockholm , (2007); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2004), among others. He has also participated in Prospect.1 New Orleans (2008); the Sydney Biennale (1996, 2008); and Documenta (1997, 2002). His opera and theater works, often produced in collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company, have appeared at Brooklyn Academy of Music (2007); Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa (1992, 1996, 1998); and Festival d’Avignon, France (1995, 1996). Kentridge has been the recipient of numerous prizes including the Kaiserring Prize (2003), the Carnegie Prize, the Carnegie International (2000), Standard Bank Young Artist Award (1987), and the Red Ribbon Award for Short Fiction (1982).