In March 2010 at the Metropolitan Opera, Kentridge [premiered] his production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Nose (1930), an adaptation of the 1836 Nikolai Gogol short story of the same name. Set in St. Petersburg, the absurdist story follows the travails of a government bureaucrat whose nose has escaped his face and assumed greater clout than he. Kentridge’s treatment of the subject draws on Gogol’s critique of Tsarist Russia as well as the Soviet suppression of Shostakovish’s opera and Rurrian avant-garde art movements.
In preparing for a theatrical production, Kentridge invariably creates a new body of work, one abundant with prints. Among the prints he developed for The Nose is a pair of large-scale lithographs, each re-creating a collage. News from Nowhere brings together scenes from the opera, renderings of Lenin and Stalin, excerpts from Gogol’s story, and torn pages from manuals, travel books, phrase books, and the like. To create the edition from the collage, Kentridge challenged Mark Attwood of The Artists’ Press, who carefully made templates for all the work’s elements, which were printed separately and adhered by the press, using three types of paper to match the tones of the original.
Nose is a series of thirty small-scale prints that also evidence Kentridge’s own practice, and Don Quixote (which, Kentridge has said, the story evokes by way of Tristram Shandy). The prints combine the tonality of sugar-lift aquatint with the precision of drypoint and engraving. The fine background lines visible in some of the plates are the result of ridges in the recycled copper plates that the artist used for the project.
William Kentridge: Trace: Prints from the Museum of Modern Art, by Judith B. Hecker, Museum of Modern Art, 2010, pp. 63.