Like jokes you tell in your dreams

William Kentridge is, in an opinion I’ve held long enough and against enough buffeting to feel reasonably confident about, one of South Africa’s finest living artists. Yesterday, he attended a rare public showing of his animated work in Durban – he’s Johannesburg based, and his art is infused with the sordid patina of that town – and explained how he works. Apparently, there’s a big piece of paper on which he has a drawing at one end of his studio. His camera is half a room away. He takes two shots, goes back to the paper, erases the charcoal (imperfectly, always) and redraws. And then walks back to the camera. Takes two more exposures. Goes back. Etc. The ideas for his animations come while he travels between canvas and memory. And he’s suspicious of “big ideas… I’ve always found Big Ideas to be like the jokes you tell in your dreams. They’re tremendously funny to you and everyone else, but when you wake up, they’re always much more feeble than you’d originally thought.”

Every bit as feeble as you originally thought, and I mention this because they were outside the Kentridge exhibition yesterday, are the rebarbative large painted cows from CowParade that have colonised so many urban spaces over the past year. Durban has a bunch of them, as do a frighteningly large number of other towns I’ve been in this year (San Francisco has hearts, which are little better). These irritating things are the McDonald’s of public art: they’re bloated, bloating, lacking in substance, overpriced, an eyesore, and their opportunity cost is art that would be better for everyone, and likely raise more cash for art and ‘good causes’. If anyone knows of a campaign to disfigure these abominations, do let me know, and put me down for five quid.

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