Fans of the defunct New York Press comic "Julius Knipfl: Real Estate Photographer" will be delighted to know that Mr. Knipfl has resurfaced as an artist named William Kentridge and that he was wandering around the Museum of Modern Art the other night taking pictures of that choice piece of real estate. . . um, I didn’t get too far through the Kentridge show at MoMA before visions of plump middle-aged white men charged erotically through MoMA’s darkened second floor atrium.
Specifically, I was watching a room full of videos of Kipfl/Kentridge performing magic tricks in his studio, grabbing papers out of thin air, spilling coffee on a pad of paper and turning it into a self-portrait, dropping sugar on the floor to create a moving parade of white chromosomes (actually a negative of some ants) and, lo and behold, being sensually smothered by a gorgeous middle-aged female, in an unlikely pairing reminiscent of hot blonde MILF Courtney Thorne-Smith drooling over vulgar bear Jim Belushi in the horrible sitcom According to Jim.
So many cultural associations, not just Knipfl, drifted through my gourd as I watched Special K Kentridge on film: the actor Raimu in The Baker’s Wife, which I first saw in a theater with my father in 1958; Giorgio de Chirico’s noble head, which so resembles Kentridge’s self-portraits on newsprint; Bruce Nauman’s 2000 night-vision video of his studio, complete with mice and cats; even curator Okwui Enwezor, who suddenly burst into the room.
Then, before me, was the man himself: not Rodney Dangerfield but William Kentridge, in a Dangerfield homage outfit of charcoal suit, white, shirt and pedestrian black lace-up shoes. Kentridge was madly kibitzing, working the room, kissing the ladies, tummling and getting respect. He was performing on film and performing in front of himself performing on film, a knowing smirk on his full, sensual lips and a glint of satisfaction in his gimlet eye. The forever credulous Calvin Tomkins recently claimed in the New Yorker that William Kentridge had never heard of The Magic Flute or Gogol’s The Nose, before he recently set to work lumping them up. Don’t believe it: Magic K wrote that music and penned the tale and pretty much dominated culture behind a jelly roll of white fat. You know who told me that, in a whisper? Julius Knipfl.
"William Kentridge: Five Themes," Feb. 24-May 17, 2010, at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).