More Sweetly Play the Dance
More than 130 feet long, William Kentridge’s eight-channel video installation More Sweetly Play the Dance surrounds the viewer. Partly filmed live, partly rendered in the artist’s signature animated style based on his drawings in charcoal, the work covers the walls of a gallery with images of a procession in a blasted landscape. The work suggests multiple histories, including an update of the danse macabre, a New Orleans jazz funeral, an exodus of displaced people, and a mythic journey.
This kaleidoscopic parade of death includes a brass band in the lead; followed by people carrying possessions or shrouded bodies; robed figures holding giant Classical busts, portraits, or birdcages; priests bearing funereal lilies; patients dragging their IV drips; skeletons; and a live ballerina (longtime Kentridge collaborator, the South African dancer Dada Masilo), who wears a military uniform and carries a rifle. Wooden chairs and four megaphones on tripods playing the soundtrack help make this video an immersive experience for its viewers.
Combining elements of medieval allegory with evocations of recent sights such as Syrian refugees and bodies felled by Ebola, Kentridge presents a carnivalesque reminder of our own mortality that is by turns morbid, chilling, comic, and political. But in the artist’s hands, the triumph of death ultimately becomes a celebration of resilience and life.
In More Sweetly Play the Dance, figures pass from one screen to the next, forming an unbroken, friezelike caravan that never ends. Changing background images come from world maps, pages from the artist’s notebooks, and texts written in Chinese. Each cycle of the looped film is fifteen minutes long. The title of the work alludes to a line from “Death Fugue,” a famous poem by the Romanian-Jewish writer Paul Celan (1920–1970): “He calls out more sweetly play death…”
William Kentridge is regarded as one of the most significant artists of our time. He has gained international recognition for his distinctive animated short films, and for the charcoal drawings he creates through erasure and redrawing. A third-generation South African of Lithuanian-Jewish heritage and a native of Johannesburg, Kentridge has always addressed contemporary life in South Africa, during both Apartheid and the post-Apartheid period, investigating the ways in which identities are shaped through shifting ideas of history and place. He explores the role of poetry in contemporary society, and offers a biting, satirical commentary of that society. For more than three decades, his work has spanned several artistic disciplines, including visual art, cinema, and theater. Through the mediums of film, sculpture, installation, charcoal drawing, and live theater, Kentridge has explored the nature of memory and emotions, and the ambiguity and complexity of social conflicts in the age of globalization.
Kentridge’s work has been exhibited widely throughout the world. Major exhibitions were held at the Reina Sofía in Madrid in 2017, and the Ullens Center in Beijing, China, in 2015. A major traveling exhibition, Fortuna, toured Latin America in 2013–15. Other recent solo shows have been presented at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Espoo, Finland (2014); ICA Boston (2014) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2013).
William Kentridge: More Sweetly Play the Dance is part of Living Together, curated by Rina Carvajal, MOAD’s Executive Director and Chief Curator, and independent curator Joseph R. Wolin. Living Together is made possible by the generous support of Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners; the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture; and the City of Miami Beach, Cultural Affairs Program, Cultural Arts Council.