William Kentridge: Notes Towards a Model Opera

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing, China
27 Jun 2015 - 30 Aug 2015

William Kentridge: Notes Towards a Model Opera

William Kentridge, Notes Towards a Model Opera, 2014–15. Three-channel video projection, color, sound, 11–14 minutes.

The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) presents William Kentridge: Notes Towards a Model Opera, a comprehensive retrospective that marks the artist’s largest exhibition in Asia to date.

Displayed across a two-story edifice designed by Kentridge’s frequent collaborator Sabine Theunissen in the UCCA Great Hall, the show includes works from every major project the artist has undertaken since 1988. The exhibition spans a vast array of media: two-dimensional artworks in India ink, charcoal, linocut, and silkscreen print on paper; kinetic sculptures that evoke the Duchampian ready-made tradition; several multi-channel video artworks comprising dozens of projections; and a large-scale installation in the form of an operatic model.

The core of the exhibition is its titular piece Notes Towards a Model Opera. Rooted in extensive research into the intellectual, political, and social history of modern China, from Lu Xun to revolutionary theater, this three-channel projection explores dynamics of cultural diffusion and metamorphosis through the formal prism of the eight model operas of the Cultural Revolution. The piece considers these didactic ballets both as a cultural phenomenon and as part of a history of dance that spans continents and centuries. Starting from its origins in Paris, Kentridge playfully overlays the aesthetic and ideological transformations of ballet as it is transplanted across the globe, an arch of influence juxtaposing contexts as disparate as Moscow, Shanghai, and the artist’s native Johannesburg. Dada Masilo is choreographer and dancer, and the score is composed and soundtrack designed by Philip Miller. As is true of many of his projects, Notes Towards a Model Opera is accompanied by a series of two-dimensional pieces inspired by this course of research and production, in this instance a set of calligraphic India ink drawings on paper from Chinese books.

The English exhibition catalogue William Kentridge: Notes Towards a Model Opera contains essays by Andrew Solomon, Alfreda Murck, and UCCA Director Philip Tinari. At its core is a text by Kentridge himself entitled “Peripheral Thinking.” The text follows in the tradition of the theatrical lectures best exemplified by his 2012 Norton Lectures at Harvard, whose associated publication Six Drawing Lessons will also debut in Chinese in conjunction with the UCCA exhibition.

Curated by UCCA Director Philip Tinari with Assistant Curator Zoe Diao, William Kentridge: Notes Towards a Model Opera opens to the public June 27 and runs until August 30. The exhibition has been made possible with the generous support of Rolex. Barco is the video equipment sponsor; GENELEC is the exclusive sound equipment support. Additional support comes from Goodman Gallery and Marian Goodman Gallery. Promotional videos for the exhibition were co-produced by UCCA and Action Media.

UCCA has organized a diverse assortment of public programs in conjunction with Notes Towards a Model Opera. Coinciding with the public opening, “A Day of Peripheral Thinking” convenes a series of forums and performances that expand the critical scope of the exhibition. The special day culminates in the cine-concert Pulling Numbers, orchestrated by Kentridge’s musical collaborator Phillip Miller with vocals by Ann Masina. For the entire list of public programs related to the exhibition, please visit the UCCA website.

William Kentridge’s work has been seen in museums and galleries around the world since the 1990s, including Documenta in Kassel, Germany (1997, 2002, 2012), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1998, 2010), and the Metropolitan Museum, New York (2013). A substantial survey of Kentridge’s work opened in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. This summer Kentridge will direct Alban’s Berg’s opera Lulu in a co-production of the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, the Metropolitan Opera in New York (November 2015), and the English National Opera in London. More Sweetly Play the Dance is conceived as an 8-channel video projection and is currently being exhibited at the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam.


Public Programs

UCCA has organized a diverse assortment of Public Programs in conjunction with “Notes Towards a Model Opera.” Coinciding with the public opening on June 27, “A Day of Peripheral Thinking” convenes a series of forums and performances that expand the critical scope of the exhibition, touching on William Kentridge’s methodology, his impact on Chinese contemporary art, and the social and political topics he explores. The program opens with a dialogue between the artist and his former protégé, Mateo López. Paired together through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in 2012-13, Kentridge and López both share the artist studio as crux of their conceptual practices. Later in the day, sinologist and renowned historian of Chinese visual culture Alfreda Murck, artists Liu Heung Shing, Wang Jianwei, and Qiu Zhijie, as well as UCCA Director Phillip Tinari review Kentridge’s impact on Chinese art practices since his first appearance on the mainland in the 2000 Shanghai Biennale. Kentridge will then deliver “Peripheral Thinking,” his newest lecture that teases out a relationship of aesthetic, political, and philosophical concerns connecting South Africa and China. “A Day of Peripheral Thinking” culminates in “Pulling Numbers: A Ciné-Concert by Philip Miller and William Kentridge.” Longtime collaborator and musical composer Phillip Miller leads this two-part concert inspired by a Chinese gambling game, featuring several of Kentridge’s films, the vocals of Ann Masina, and the talents of seven local musicians. For more information regarding Public Programs related to the exhibition, please visit the UCCA website.


Ullens Center for Contemporary Art
798 Art District
No. 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu

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