William Kentridge: Why I should hesitate at Deichtorhalle Hamburg

My first train travel in over nine months led me through HH and on the return I stopped and saw the first show since Shuvinai Ashoona’s Holding on to Universes at CCA Glasgow a couple of days before Lockdown 1.

I don’t linger too much around the earlier drawings and prints but enjoy the construction of viewing boxes and small rooms along with the studio space, the later hotel reception and the reading room.

I am sure I will have seen More Sweetly Play the Dance (2015), I thought it was a Documenta work but am corrected, so I am uncertain where I saw it. It, the scale of the relief prints that concern the Mediterranean refuge routes of the mid-2010s (Refugees (You Will Find No Other Seas), 2017), the work concerning the death of the African porters enlisted for the British war effort and subsequent silence (Porter Series 2005) are stunning and humbling, yes, I think that is the word.

The work is vast and serious about its sincerity and concern. I think that is what strikes me most with the scale of the print productions. And while I am often put off by large scale ambition, here I feel grateful for him affording the subject matter all that space and visibility (it enters a dialogue with my own questions of scale, encounter and engagement).

The work for the Istanbul Biennial a few years ago of Trotsky’s Hotel reception and the ghosts that would haunt that reception was sweet, funny and playful, I liked it a lot too (O Sentimental Machine 2015). The show almost ends with a large reading room and flower bouquets (Studio Flowers 2013) drawn in ink on found paper, each consisting of around 80 sheets pinned together. They framed a socially distanced reading room and library cabinet. That room worked for me so well and so did these drawings of such a quaint subject matter. Perhaps it was the earlier works that contextualised it and moved the flowers elsewhere?

Here a few images.

The exhibition site has many more videos, I am including a link to a digital symposium from Spring 2021:

3 thoughts on “William Kentridge: Why I should hesitate at Deichtorhalle Hamburg”

  1. In Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery’s big Kentridge exhibition in 2018, I saw some of what you saw in this exhibition alongside a different selection, and was pretty stunned even though I’d been seeing his work here and there for several years before. Each time, when I’m there in front of the work, it’s too much for me to take in, but things stay with me and I get more and more attached to them. I can’t believe how wonderful I think they are and yet I struggle to explain why. Apart from the power. The sheer power in every mark he seems to make, whatever the media or form. And I’m hard-pushed to name another artist where it’s that quality which I love – and love experiencing. Power with integrity: a rare combination?


    1. thanks, Jennifer — yes, that is very much my sense too; I wondered if I saw his stuff in MCR too but I think I would remember the gallery space if that was the case. — I have been meaning to get in touch as I miss our conversations but the last year has been strange, perhaps it will become a bit clearer soon and I would love to continue our conversations. I hope you have been doing okay?


  2. A more-than-strange year. I’m about to move, though only to somewhere around 30 km away – though almost into Wales. I’m starting to think I’ve coped with pandemic life better than some people – never knew I was happily such a solitary individual.


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