William Kentridge



MCA DNA: William Kentridge is part of an ongoing exhibition series featuring iconic works from the MCA Collection. Acclaimed for his work in animated film, visual art, theater, and opera, Kentridge had his first survey exhibition in the United States in 2001 at MCA Chicago. From this exhibition, the MCA acquired more than a dozen drawings and two of his best-known films: Felix in Exile (1994) and History of the Main Complaint (1996), both of which will be on view. The drawings featured in the exhibition are those used to make this latter film—charcoal sketches that Kentridge erased and reworked to create the memorable segments that depict his alter egos and their struggles in late and post-apartheid Johannesburg: Felix Teitlebaum, the romantic artist who is always shown nude, and Soho Eckstein, the self-absorbed, wealthy mine owner and land developer who always wears a pinstriped suit. Although he is best known for his short animated films, Kentridge considers the activity of drawing the basis of his work. He has stated, “I believe that in the indeterminacy of drawing, the contingent way that images arrive in the work, lies some kind of model of how we live our lives. The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are and or how we operate in the world. It is in the strangeness of the activity itself that we can detect judgments, ethics, and morality.”

Like much of Kentridge’s work, History of the Main Complaint addresses issues of memory, truth, and reconciliation—issues that gripped South Africa in the immediate post-apartheid period, during which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held public hearings to recover lost histories, to make reparations to those who had suffered, and to provide amnesty.

Also on view is the torn-paper collage Portage (2000), which features pages from a vintage French-language encyclopedia as its background. Created specifically for the catalogue that accompanied the MCA’s 2001 exhibition of the artist’s work, this collage depicts the march of variously weary, stalwart, and exuberant characters in silhouette and is a poignant commentary on the human condition, rooted in the dramatic events of South Africa’s recent history. This will be the first showing of Portage in its entirety.

This exhibition is organized by Lynne Warren, Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.


Generous support for MCA DNA: William Kentridge is provided by Susan and Lew Manilow; and Lois and Steve Eisen and the Eisen Family Foundation. MCA Chicago is a proud member of Museums in the Park and receives major support from the Chicago Park District.

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