When the celebrated South African artist William Kentridge created his installation “The Refusal of Time” for Documenta 13, the international exhibition in Kassel, Germany, five years ago, it proved such a draw that you had to refuse an hour or more to wait in line to see it. Through films, various contraptions, megaphones broadcasting competing soundtracks and off-kilter metronomes ticking time, Kentridge meant to show the unsuspected connection between the clock and colonialism.

The exhibition happened to be in a grungy corner of the Kassel train station. As we stood aimlessly in line that hot summer of 2012, commuters, regulated by trains running precisely to the clock, rushed by in obvious disregard for our refusal of the hour. With Documenta’s intentional reference to the station in World War II having been a transfer point for Jewish prisoners sent to concentration camps, clocks and trains took on sinister significance.

The result is that the refusing of an hour or two symbolized political import in a way that an installation piece created for this environment could never quite reproduce elsewhere. It lasts a half-hour and has traveled widely, but at nice museums in New York, San Francisco or Salzburg, you spend a few minutes with it and then move on to the next thing. Read more