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Five Easy Pieces: William Kentridge

Well, perhaps they weren’t all that easy. Over at SFMOMA, the blockbuster Five Themes show (through May 31) starring South African artist William Kentridge is drawing crowds and major kudos.

Intricate and three-decades in the making, this exquisite collection of drawings, prints, sculpture, animated features and projected video is a tour-de-force that wowed even Kentridge’s own gallerist, Marian Goodman: “The works look magnificent here! Kentridge has invented a form unique to the art world. He is also a man of great humanity and great poetry.”

The exhibition (organized by SFMOMA and the Norton Museum of Art with major support from the Koret Foundation and Doris and Don Fisher) next embarks on a world city tour.

But there is already a built-in fan base here in S.F. for Kentridge and his work. Especially within the heart of SFMOMA Trustee Mimi Haas. A major donation of Kentridge’s works was donated to MOMA in New York by Mimi’s friends, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro, Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis, and David Rockefeller in honor of her late husband, Peter Haas.

The artist was feted and fussed over at a series of receptions, private dinners and an Artist’s Circle and Director’s Circle museum dinner (co-sponsored by Christie’s Auctions) at the W Hotel. As well as an impromptu post-party inspired by Pied Piper Stanlee Gatti who led Kentridge & Co. to Pena Pachamama to joyously dance night into morning.

Five Pieces is a great experience for the Bay Area,” declared SFMOMA Board President Charles Schwab, who called himself “one very happy museum chairman” at the dinner. “Kentridge’s work will lift up people’s spirits about human endeavor.”

Helen Schwab and her husband, SFMOMA Board President Charles Schwab at the Kentridge dinner

Artist Robert Bechtle agreed.

“The intricacy in Kentridge’s drawing is like ‘back to the Academy’ in the 19th century,” said Bechtle. “Yet his vision is really right now -- original and brilliant. It has an aesthetic awesomeness that just knocks you over.”

But Kentridge only had praise for those who assist him in his creations: mechanical constructionist Jonas Lundquist, electronic programmer Ronald Hallgrem and SFMOMA’s Steven Dye. And most important? His wife, Anne Stanwix.

“Anne is the person who comes into the studio and says, ‘OK. This is good. Get rid of this. Now do this,” said Kentridge, to great laughs. “And I’m afraid to say, she’s right!"

Just in case there wasn’t enough Kentridge on view, the museum’s Modern Art Council (led by MAC President Dolly Chamas) hosted a special, limited engagement at Theater Artaud of Kentridge’s grandly operatic production of Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses.

The revival of this 1640 masterpiece was produced by Pacific Operaworks and not only featured the usual super-titles but also projections of Kentridge’s animated drawings and additional, inanimate cast members starring the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa that magically anthropomorphized during the opera.

“William’s body of work is an expression of creative dissatisfaction, creative wanderlust,” said SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, thrilled by both the show and the artist. “His works speak of trying to discover new ways of making things wonderful.”

This merry month continues for SFMOMA: The long-awaited unveiling of the museum’s rooftop sculpture garden (designed by Jensen & Macy Architects) debuts to the public on May 10.

In addition to the exciting art that will be showcased atop the museum’s garage, aficinados will also get a buzz from artisanal brewings at the garden’s new Blue Bottle coffee bar.

Check out the photos below


Elaine McKeon and her daughter, Eileen Michael at the Kentridge dinner


Artist Robert Bechtle and Charles Collins at the Kentridge dinner.

Katie Schwab and Matt Paige at the Kentridge dinner

Kentridge's gallerist, Marian Goodman at the dinner


Russell Notides, Norton Museum of Art Director Christina Orr-Cahall and Christie's Ellanor Notides at the Kentridge dinner


Richard and Lorrie Greene with Howard Zlot at the Kentridge dinner


Stanlee Gatti, Charles Schwab and Kentridge's wife, Anne Stanwix, at the Kentridge dinner


Ulysses event co-chair Peggy Newton, MAC President Dolly Chamas and event co-chair Candace Cavanaugh

Linda Kemper and SF Opera Artistic Director David Gockley at Ulysses

Neal Benezra and New Art Trust President Jack Lane at Ulysses

Rich Silverstein and Carla Emil at Ulysses

Karen Caldwell and Betsy Linder at Ulysses

Montgomery and Annie Woods at Ulysses

Jonas Lundquist, Ronald Hallgrem and SFMOMA's Steven Dye at Pena