El Anatsui’s Summer In New York City

(header work:  entrance to El Anatsui exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum)

As I’ve mentioned before in several of my blogs, I’m a great admirer of the Ghanaian artist, but based in Nigeria,   El Anatsui (b. 1944).  I think why I love him so much is because he uses found objects in his art and I like to do that, too.

His first solo exhibition in a New York museum at the Brooklyn Museum of Art features over 30 works in metal and wood that transform appropriated objects into site-specific sculptures. El Anatsui converts found materials into works of art that are breathtaking.  I can hardly show anything here, to see more,visit the Brooklyn Museum’s website.  It was very hard to choose what to show.

He also has a work exhibited on New York City’s Highline this summer.  Following are photo’s I’ve taken of his work at these two places.

Earth's Skin
Earth’s Skin (2007). Aluminum can tops that are attached by copper wiring. (click on photo to enlarge and see the can tops up close.

El Anatsui doesn’t cut and attach all these can tops by himself. He has an army of assistants who do the hard labor. I’ve heard that as a criticism of his work, how he makes these African workers do this tedious work to impress the Western Art Market. My opinion is that almost any work is better than no work at all. I think the work isn’t so bad if one knows that they are making a contribution to something grand, like a great piece of art. Like the men who built the Brooklyn Bridge, which was horrible work, but after it is done, they can look at the bridge and be proud that they were part of building such a grand and beneficial object.

Red Block (2010) Aluminum and copper wire.
black block
Black Block Aluminum, copper wire
"The Peak" again, tin can tops
“The Peak,” again, tin can tops
Drifting Bags"  These look like gigantic shopping bags.  They are made out of newspaper and other kinds of paper.
“Waste Paper Bags” Aluminum printing plates, paint, copper wire. These look like gigantic shopping bags. The printing plates have newspaper print on them.

“The forms resemble large woven bags that became known as “Ghana must-go” bags in the early 1980’s, when Nigerians hostile toward Ghanaian refugees…suggested they pack their belongings in such sacks and return home.”

"Drifting Continents, 2009.  Linked screw-top liquor bottle caps.
“Drifting Continents, 2009. Linked screw-top liquor bottle caps attached by copper wire.
closeup drifting continents
“Drifting Continents” closeup. “The title evokes a theme that runs parallel in his bottle-top works:…how the world is interconnected, or, more specifically, how the historical trade in alcohol links the continents of Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

Now we move to the Highline in Manhattan. The Highline is an elevated park that runs between the Hudson River and Manhattan’s Chelsea and Meat Packing Districts.

Broken Bridge II
Broken Bridge II, 2012 — Recycled Pressed tin, mirrors. 37′ x 157′  

I was surprised that this work is covered up from the front by trees and bushes. As you can see it’s on the side of a building. El Anatsui said that he used the mirrors to reflect the buildings of the city so as to make it a reflection of the city.

broken bridge II closeup
Closeup of Broken Bridge II. As you can see these look like rusted metal tiles.

Also check out, on line, the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, which shows much of his work.  You might also like to check out my other two posts about him:  “El Anatsui’s Masterpiece at the Met,” and “Why Art.”

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