Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction

New York

William Kentridge
video installation, chest of drawers and two mirrors
Dimensions Variable
Executed in 1999, this work is number 3 from an edition of 3.
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Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
Acquired by the present owner from the above


South African National Gallery; Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York, New Museum of Contemporary Art; Lakeworth, Museum of Contemporary Art, William Kentridge, June 2001 - March 2003, pp. 134-135 and 154 (another example exhibited)

Catalogue Note

Sleeping on Glass perfectly synthesizes the diverse artistic background and conceptual fascinations of William Kentridge, channeling these influences into one of the artist’s strongest pieces to date. Kentridge’s multidimensional resume includes not only a robust artistic foundation in printmaking and drawing but also a degree in Politics and African Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand and years of studying mime and theatre at the L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. In pieces such as Sleeping on Glass, we see how the artist’s own complex biography has lent itself to the creation of an equally complex and sophisticated body of work.  

Looking beyond the common emphasis on social commentary, Kentridge's art can be broadly characterized as interplay between fantasy and realism. With this framing in mind, his work has at times been likened to a Contemporary reflection on Dada and Surrealism. In the present work, by displaying an animated film within the context of a larger physical installation, Kentridge effectively blurs the separation between the real or live and the displayed or performed. With this staging and the inclusion of found objects, he highlights the participatory quality of the act of viewing, a theme central to this artist’s oeuvre.

Kentridge has always held a keen fascination with mechanisms of viewing and the interactive act of seeing. Curator Lilian Tone has elaborated on this focus noting, "He provokes a reflection on the process of seeing; constantly pointing to a world whose meaning must be constructed by each of us through our sense of sight." (Lilian Tone, William Kentridge: Fortuna, London, 2013)

A mirror perhaps is the ultimate manifestation of these concepts in their most basic form. Kentridge masterfully employs this object as a potent symbol in this poetic installation. Within his film, the metaphor of mirror imagery is emphasized through the compositional format of the open face of a book. Frequently, his drawn pages appear like mirror images with only subtle differences such as a shift in the text from “PANIC” to “PICNIC”. These poetic subtleties peak the viewer’s awareness and prompt a deeply sensitive reading of this important work.

Contemporary Art Day Auction

New York