A recent acquisition by the Met, William Kentridge’s five-channel video installation The Refusal of Time is currently on display until late Spring. Like his work in general, I love it and highly recommend you go see it. It is drawing-based, as his work tends to be, intentionally rough to look handmade and refer to the process of making and artist himself. Kentridge makes an appearance as the artist, and orchestrator of this immersive video installation that harnesses both sound and movement to call on all your senses. While he does so, though, he locks you into the chairs screwed to the floor, so that your view is limited, and uses all the walls of the gallery so that it is physically impossible for the viewer to see it all. It becomes a manifestation of time and its refusal to be contained.
There is a narrative, although despite having sat through it twice I couldn’t outline it for you. It involves, yes, time, but also colonization and South Africa, an implied romance, the proliferation of knowledge and the ambitions of man. Its crescendo and finale is an energetic march of silhouetted characters, who pump instruments, take showers, and dance to the inevitable and unstoppable march of time.
Perhaps a solid criticism would be that Kentridge has matured into a recognizable style, with reoccurring motifs, and rather than innovate he uses his success to do more lavish versions of the same thing. A friend of mine argued that the essence of his work remains in the early drawings and films. Maybe that is true, but I think one reason people might distrust his work is because it is so enjoyable. There’s a sense that it can’t be “serious” or “good” art if the viewer can just lose themselves in the experience: that to do so is shallow. To my mind, that doesn’t do justify to a work that is slippery, unstable, philosophical, and complex even while it lulls you into pleasurable viewing.