Installation view, William Kentridge, Baur au Lac, Zurich, 2024 © William Kentridge. Photo: Jon Etter

William Kentridge at Art in the Park, Zurich

31 May 2024

Explore sculptures by the South African artist in the gardens of the Baur au Lac

The 2024 edition of the Baur au Lac’s Art in the Park program will feature five bronze sculptures by artist William Kentridge, on view 10 June until 21 July 2024. Curated by Gigi Kracht, curator, collector, writer and founder of Art in the Park, Kentridge’s playful investigations in sculpture and scale will be featured alongside an indoor presentation by Martin Creed and Rita Ackermann.

William Kentridge explores scaling as an instrument to create, alter and expand meaning, enlarging several of his intimate works into large or medium sized bronze sculptures, five of which are on view. As part of his Glyph series, all of the works started out as drawings of symbols, ranging from everyday objects to plants and figures or icons repeatedly seen throughout his oeuvre, made on pages from a dictionary. These two-dimensional works metamorphized into maquettes that were subsequently used to create the molds for small-scale bronze sculptures, some of which were grouped into sculptural sets titled ‘Lexicon’ (2017), ‘Paragraph II’ (2018) and ‘Cursive’ (2020).

‘These are sculptures of words, of objects, of glyphs,’ Kentridge says. ‘As if you could weigh a word or hold it in your hand, there is a sculpture of an hourglass, or a trophy or a simplified tree… The bronzes are unspoken, inarticulate or uncertain words and phrases.’—William Kentridge

Kentridge’s transformation from drawing to sculpture, two-dimension to three-dimension, attests to the ever-evolving definitions of his glyphs, informed by the objects and space around them. Taking center stage in the gardens of the Baur au Lac is the three-and-a-half-meter tall bronze ‘Her’ (2022), one of the largest sculptures the artist has made. Developed from a small anthropomorphic sculpture in ‘Cursive’ depicting a simplified figure striding forward, this glyph was upscaled in 2021 before being reworked in an even larger dimension, demonstrating a shift in size that Kentridge has been exploring over the past few years. For the monumental sculpture on view, Kentridge uses scale to shift both its form and meaning towards abstraction.

Medium sized works on view include ‘Oak leaf’ (2021)—its shape also derived from a form in ‘Cursive’— which reaches close to a meter in height. Engaging with the tradition of the bust and the language associated with the form, ‘Hero’ (2018)—adapted from a glyph in ‘Lexicon’—explores the fluidity of symbols and the subjective nature of perception. These are accompanied by the similarly sized bronzes ‘Bull’ (2023) and ‘Apron’ (2022), a humanoid work with a megaphone-esque head—a motif repeatedly employed throughout the artist’s practice. Interacting with their setting within the Baur au Lac, Kentridge’s sculptures play with the viewers’ reading of ordinary objects, allowing them to excavate their own messages and invent their own language.

Born in 1955 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Kentridge grew up under the pall of apartheid. His practice has parsed and questioned the historical record ever since—responding to the past as it ineluctably shapes the present—and created a world within his art that both mirrors and shadows the inequities and absurdities of our own. The multi-disciplinary artist is internationally acclaimed for his artworks, theater and opera productions. He applies a broad spectrum of methods and collaborative practices to create works of art that are grounded in politics, science, literature and history. By employing varied mediums, the artist seeks to construct meaning through the use of historical resources, including maps, language and everyday imagery, while always maintaining a space for contradiction and uncertainty.

Kentridge’s work has been seen in museums and galleries around the world since his first survey exhibition in 1998 at Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, including the Albertina Museum (Vienna), Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea (Turin), Johannesburg Art Gallery, Kunstmuseum Basel, Louisiana Museum (Humlebaek), Musée du Louvre (Paris), Museum of Modern Art (New York), Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid), Norval Foundation (Cape Town), Royal Academy of Arts (London), Whitechapel Gallery (London) and Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Cape Town). He has participated a number of times in documenta (Kassel) (2012, 2002, 1997) and the Venice Biennale (2015, 2013, 2005, 1999, 2024), as well as the Sydney Biennale (2008) and the Istanbul Biennale (1995, 2015). In 2016, Kentridge founded the Centre for the Less Good Idea in Johannesburg: a space for responsive thinking and making through experimental, collaborative and cross-disciplinary arts practices. The center hosts an ongoing program of workshops, public performances and mentorship activities.

Installation view, William Kentridge, Baur au Lac, Zurich, 2024 © William Kentridge. Photo: Jon Etter

Installation view, William Kentridge, Baur au Lac, Zurich, 2024 © William Kentridge. Photo: Jon Etter