Last night, I went to a reception at the Brooklyn Museum for El Anatsui, whose work is shown in a massive exhibition called Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui. I knew it was going to be good, because I’d seen about a quarter of it as it was being installed about a month ago; besides, I’d viewed the other traveling exhibition of Anatsui’s work at the Denver Art Museum, El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa , in early January, and liked that.
The Denver show was billed as a retrospective, “61 works cover all phases of the artist’s career, from his early work in Ghana utilizing traditional symbols to found driftwood works made in Denmark to sculptures made using the chainsaw as a carving tool. ” And it did provide a good overview of his career.
The Brooklyn exhibit is something else indeed — do not for a minute think that because you’ve seen one you need not see the other. The Brooklyn show has just 30 works, but most are truly monumental. They take up space, and they look great in Brooklyn. Anatsui is not making small things any more (that’s what I was told by dealers and curators: many collectors have asked for small, home-sized versions of his hangings, but he has turned down those requests), though this show does include some small wood sculptures/wall hangings.
One takeaway from seeing both shows centers on Anatsui’s career — he is best known for the multi-colored hangings made from bottle caps, can tabs, and other detritus. But many of the wood works are just as fascinating. Take a look at the one posted at right, from the Brooklyn show. And Denver had several figurative wood sculptures, above left.
I am sure you have seen the multicolored hangings that glitter gold — Brooklyn has a large gallery full of them, some suspended from the ceiling, some hung on the walls. It’s wonderful to see through them, as in my photo at right.
I also took a closeup, and here’s a detail from it, below:
Later in Brooklyn’s exhibit, there’s a stunning wall — an undulating black piece side-by-side with a bright red one. Here they are:
No disrespect to Brooklyn for the getting this exhibition, but I have to point out that it was the Akron Art Museum that organized it: Ellen Rudolph, the senior curator there (as she pointed out, Akron has just two curators), did the job and she was there last night. After Brooklyn, she said, the exhibit is traveling to the Des Moines Art Center and the Bass Art Musesum in Miami – and maybe one more, as-yet-undisclosed venue. So congratulations to her — I love that this show is circulating to several small-ish museums; their publics deserve great art too.
They’ll see what I’ve seen: people walk through the galleries with wonder on their faces.
Photo Credits: © Judith H. Dobrzynski