Tuesday, May 19, 2015

El Anatsui's Mesmerizing Exhibition, Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works, San Diego, Downtown

El Anatsui
Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
Article by Cathy Breslaw

Ink Splash, 2010, aluminum and copper wire, 119 x 124 inches, installation at the Akron Art Museum. Collection of Jennifer and John Eagle. Photo by Andrew McAllister, courtesy of the Akron Art Museum.

El Anatsui is an African artist who shares time between his childhood home in Ghana and Nigeria.  He is a mature artist whose artistic sensibility can be traced to the 60’s and 70’s when painters, sculptors and installation artists experimented with accessible materials, turning their backs on tradition, and ushering in new perspectives on “what is art”. 

While travelling through the various rooms at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown San Diego, viewers are struck by the massive sizes of these textile-like wall and immersive works made with a combination of thousands of liquor bottle labels, bottle caps, wire ties, and round tin can tops that are wire stitched together, then fastened together with copper wire. 

Though the back story of the work speaks of the cultural, economic, and social issues of colonialism, globalism, waste, and consumerism, viewers are more caught up in the sheer visceral reactions to the size and gorgeous shimmering flowing patterns of gold, silver, red, blue, and brown colors woven through each piece. 

There is also a series of over sized ‘Wastepaper Bags’, five to eight feet in size, made of aluminum, and newspaper speaking to the problem of waste recycling in his country.  Two additional rooms are devoted to El Anatsui’s drawings and wooden wall reliefs with metal and paint.  Anatsui carves and scorches with chainsaws and routers to gouge, torch and mark the many previously used wooden slats. He makes reference to abstract visual systems of communication in these works as well as to the ancestry of the African people.

Though complex in their compositional elements, there is a particular directness and raw simplicity in these wood reliefs that is missing in the massive wall tapestries. It is interesting to note that these massive works are created with the help of El Anatsui’s thirty assistants and that when they are hung in the various museums and other venues, the installers are free to manipulate these cloth-like metal works and hang them as they desire. This ‘global collaboration’ in both the creation and presentation of El Anatsui’s art is a consistent underpinning of his work.

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