The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2005
In 2003, South African artist William Kentridge was commissioned to stage and direct a production of Mozart's The Magic Flute for the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels. The project led to the creation of a magnificent body of work including films, miniature theatres, and a series of drawings and prints. Preparing the Flute, 2005, is William Kentridge's model stage set for Mozart's The Magic Flute transformed into work of art.
The project was a natural fit for Kentridge. His work has a narrative, theatrical quality, often using sequences of drawings animated for projection, reflecting an admiration for the early days of film. His themes, however, are informed by his upbringing in Johannesburg at the height of the apartheid years. Much of his work directly addresses the tyranny of authority, the psychological consequences of apartheid's worst extremes, and the dark side of Enlightenment ideals, the "enforced wisdom" which underpinned the ravages of colonialism. Working in black and white, Kentridge explores ways of thinking about darkness and light. His technique of erasure, erasing and subtly altering the lines of his drawings leaving traces of what has come before, leaves behind a palette of grays and comments on the ephemeral nature of historical memory.
In the present work, we view the action on screen as though from the belly of a camera, the bellows of which resemble a Baroque theatre set, retreating in perspective towards the stage. Front and rear projections present a compilation of the opera's key thematic strands: a rhinoceros dances jerkily to Tamino's flute like a marionette on strings and Kentridge himself appears as a dark silhouette representing Papagano the bird catcher, drawing lines through space and plucking birds from the air like a magician. Despite the opera's central conflict between Good and Evil, Kentridge resists easy distinctions, insisting: "[like] a photographic negative and positive, they are complementary," (Mark Rosenthal, William Kentridge: Five Themes, San Francisco, 2009, p. 55).
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