January 31, 2006

University honors South African artist with Rosenberg Medal

South African artist William Kentridge will receive the Rosenberger Medal for outstanding achievement in the creative and performing arts on January 31 and will also be giving a free public talk about his latest project. The medal will be presented Tuesday night during a ceremony at the home of University President Don Randel.

The University has awarded the Rosenberger Medal since 1917, honoring recipients for achievements “deemed to be of great benefit to humanity.” Past honorees have included author Toni Morrison and Fredrick Grant Banning, who discovered insulin.

Kentridge will deliver a talk, entitled “Journey to the Moon,” on the subject of his current work, “Seven Fragments for George Méliès.” The talk will be held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday at Ida Noyes Hall’s Max Palevsky Cinema, and is co-sponsored by The Franke Institute and the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory.

During his visit, Kentridge will also serve as a Marjorie Kovler Visiting Fellow, whose purpose is to encourage interaction between Chicago students and well known individuals in the arts and public affairs.

Kentridge’s work consists mainly of charcoal drawings with pastel touches. Recently, he has expanded into several different types of media. Kentridge films his drawings as a reference for going back later to erase and re-draw. His drawings have influenced a series of short animated films and theatrical backdrops and have inspired a set of life-size wooden puppets for the Handspring Puppet Company.

“It has to be a mark of something out there in the world,” Kentridge said about his drawings. “It doesn’t have to be an accurate drawing, but it has to stand for an observation, not something that is abstract, like an emotion.”

Kentridge is well known for mixing art and politics. Born in Johannesburg in 1955, most of his projects showcase the complex political atmosphere of his life in South Africa both during and after apartheid.

“I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and an uncertain ending—an art and a politics in which optimism is kept in check, and nihilism at bay,” Kentridge said of his work.

Along with the Carnegie Medal in 2000, Kentridge has won acclaim from numerous museums across the nation, with exhibitions hosted by MCA San Diego, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. A number of Kentridge’s survey shows have also toured the United States and Europe.