Palermo confirms itself as the Sicilian city symbol for international contemporary art exhibitions and, in fact, in Palazzo Branciforte, the William Kentridge exhibition “You Whom I Could Not Save” was inaugurated on 7 October and will be open to visitors until 12 January 2024.
It is a complex exhibition itinerary, which offers not only the sound installation with the projection that gives the title to the entire solo exhibition, but also the video work Sibyl – from 2020 – and the presence of eight large megaphones from which the music by Nhlanhla Mahlangu, directed by Tlale Makhene, considered sound blends coming from the Nguni group of languages, typical of southern Africa. The protagonist is one of the most eclectic artists of our time: William Kentridge, born in Johannesburg in 1955, who stands out for an artistic research that draws from theater to music, from performance to stop-motion animation cinema up to special effects.
The South African artist’s exhibition project was designed specifically for Palermo on the occasion of Contemporary Art Day. The idea for this solo show, supported by the Sicilia Foundation, is by Antonio Leone – director of Ruber.contemporanea with the curatorship of art historians Giulia Ingarao and Alessandra Buccheri. There is not only a precise exhibition idea, therefore, but also a theatrical text that Kentrindge worked on with an opening chorus – which recited the words that give the exhibition its title – of a theatrical work entitled “The Great Yes, the Great No”, centered on the theme of a journey of refugees fleeing from Vichy France, from Marseille to Martinique in 1941. In his imaginative-theatrical vision, on that ship there would be some exponents of Surrealism such as André Breton, Wifredo Lam, Victor Serge, Anna Seghers and Claude Levi-Strauss who manage to save themselves. While for Kentridge this exhibition is instead a journey of no return across the River Styx from which many people could not save themselves but it is also the journey of the aimless horrors of the Mediterranean.
And it is the space of Palazzo Branciforte – which was among the most luxurious and elegant residences in eighteenth-century Palermo and today the headquarters of the Sicilia Foundation chaired by Raffaele Bonsignore – or the ancient Monte dei Pegni di Santa Rosalia that is the driving force and nerve center of the exhibition with its wooden height, punctuated by stairs, balconies, wooden shelves that almost evoke a bizarre and elongated metamorphosis of an old verticalized “Elizabethan” theatre. It is no coincidence, in fact, that among the Monte’s shelves there are tapestries displayed together with bronze and painted sculptures and sixteen unpublished charcoal drawings on pages of the ancient accounting book, from 1828, where figures, faces, silhouettes dance in a dreamlike and surreal collage. An immersion in the Pawnshop with its wood that returns to being vibrant and to evoke the precariousness of time, the expectation of desires and the hope of a journey with the words of Mayakovsky, chosen by the artist in the video You Whom I Could Not Save: «misfortune flows as from a water main».
At this point, the history of Monte dei Pegni must be clarified, which is linked to the time of the Bourbon king when, in 1801, the works to re-adapt the noble palace to its other and new destination where the pawned goods could be housed began. In this regard, the wooden structure was built, which for about two centuries hosted what the most disadvantaged and poorest social class could leave behind such as sheets, mattresses, hats, shoes, clothes and then redeem them. Kentridge presents to the public a surprising total artwork with a narrative-theatrical character with signs, forms with his weightless imaginary world with sounds and video projections, with recurring silhouettes and faces that come out of his ability to deliver the elusive for dramatic reasoning about fortunate or unfortunate time.
He therefore does not propose an answer but shifts the question to Beckett, proposing a universal and epic time with journeys without return, entrusted to symbols, figures and bronzes without skin, tapestries without flesh, papers without weight. Ultimately, this is one of the messages: a profound reflection on becoming and life itself as Kentridge knows how to do with his total, multifaceted, poetic, organic, performative and suspended art through works with a strongly experiential character for a complete involvement of the senses.
Nilla Zaira D’Urso
William Kentridge. You Whom I Could Not Save
a cura di Antonio Leone, Giulia Ingarao e Alessandra Buccheri
7/10/2023 – 12/01/2024
Palazzo Branciforte – Fondazione Sicilia
Largo Gae Aulenti, 2, 90133 Palermo PA
Through art she feels the need to get closer to nature, deciding to create an artistic residence on Etna as a “refuge for contemporary art” for artists and scholars. Thus was born Nake artistic residence. She won the Responsible Etna Award 2015. In 2017, she was invited to the Sala Zuccari, Senate of the Republic, as an art critic. She writes for Italian and foreign artists. Curator of the first Museum of Contemporary Art of Etna and of the “Contemporary Etna” project.