Installation views of El Anatsui at Jack Shainman Gallery
It’s hard to not find El Anatsui’s work beguiling. The first piece I experienced was at the De Young Museum in San Francisco before El Anatsui’s break out into international fame at the last Venice Biennale. I was knocked out by the tactility of his tapestry in metal, particularly his singular cobbling of bottle caps, liquor bottle lids and wire into a lush wall of color and glimmery metallic glow. His pieces are always fun to look at.
El Anatsui is a beautiful, articulate, soft-spoken man. A Ghanian who teaches art in Nigeria, he talks about traditions that are specific to his nation and his experience as an African. Most of the reports I’ve read about him comment on how little disruption this quick rise to fame has had on his rhythms and outlook. He talks about how his work is an attempt to blend “ocular beauty” with something more, how these pieces, made from the detritus from liquor containers, also speak to the role liquor has played in the life of Africans. No polemic here, just a steady gaze at life. Like his work, El Anatsui is also beguiling.
His idiom is very familiar to me now, but I am still a fan. And if you are too, this is a good time to see many of his works on display in New York City. The Metropolitan Museum recently installed a piece, Between Heaven and Earth, in their African Art galleries, and Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea has a slew of them on display through March 13.
A few close ups of his works:
Note: Watch this video clip of El Anatsui installing his piece, Between Heaven and Earth, at the Metropolitan Museum. And here is an earlier post about his work on this blog: El Anatsui, in New York (from January 8, 2008)