6th Mar, 2024 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 20
Lot 20 - William Kentridge (South Africa 1955-)


William Kentridge (South Africa 1955-)
Drawing for Zeno Writing (Staked Landscape)

charcoal on paper

Artwork date: 2001
Signature details: signed bottom left

Estimated at R800,000 - R1,200,000


charcoal on paper

Artwork date: 2001
Signature details: signed bottom left


57 x 76 cm; framed size: 91 x 109 x 2.5 cm


Private collection, Cape Town.


Invited by legendary art curator, Okwui Enwezor, who had been appointed as the Artistic Director of Documenta XI to be held in Kassel Germany between 8 June and 15 September 2002, William Kentridge set about creating a new work that would allow him to address an unstable world, in order to better explore and comprehend dimensions of treachery and nonsense.

Zeno Writing, for which this drawing was made, is an 11-minute film montage that contemplates the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the eruption of World War I in 1914. It emerged as a postscript to the theatre piece CONFESSIONS of Zeno, which was, in turn, based on the novel by Italo Svevo. His Coscienza di Zeno (The Confessions of Zeno), considered a gem of psychological observation and Jewish humour, gained international recognition years later through Eugenio Montale and in France through the mediation of James Joyce. In addition to the notion of confession, the Italian word coscienza translates as both consciousness and conscience, inviting multiple associations.

In her own work and in her extraordinary collaboration on Confessions of Zeno, Jane Taylor, as the writer of, and close collaborator, with Kentridge, the Handspring Puppet Company and with composer, Kevin Volans, refers to her increasing interest in the realms of confession and autobiography through her engagement with questions of truth and reconciliation which occupied South Africans – and the world – through the public hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held between 1996 and 2015.[1]

Typically of many of Kentridge’s drawings which are simultaneously ways of thinking through his ideas, the artist has inscribed in red chalk across the upper right a series of notations or notes to self, including, rather enigmatically, the words and phrases such as ‘A word struck through’, ‘Ship sink’, ‘ground Calais draw’, ‘no circle’ and ‘walk End’.

As in the novel and the theatre piece, the film renders obliquely our faintly desperate attempts to write an unstable world into order, the more so to comprehend and control what is treacherous and nonsensical. The lines at the end of the film: ‘Where are they all now? Smoke, Ashes, Fable? Perhaps they are no longer even fable,’ are from Herodotus, quoted by Ryszard Kapuscinski in The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat.[2]

Emma Bedford

[1] Taylor, J. (2003). ‘Taking stock: the making of a bourgeois life ­– The Confessions of Zeno: report’. The South African Theater Journal. Vol.17, No.1.

[2] With thanks to Damon Garstang at Kentridge Studio for drawing my attention to this.



The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; George Eastman Museum, New York; Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA), Michigan; The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; University of Cape Town and the Zietz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa; Cape Town.

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