Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Monumental Works by El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum: Gravity & Grace

The most astonishing quality of El Anatsui's monumental metal wall works is their fluidity. Made from bottle caps from a nearby distillery, these works have qualities of both painting and sculpture, because of the marriage of color, design, texture, and shape. They take on radically new shapes with each installation, allowing curators to be co-creators.  I had seen digital images of the work and assumed it was fixed, both because of its massiveness and also because each piece looked so right. It was difficult not to touch them, feel their texture, and play with expanding,contracting, and manipulating their shapes.  Just a finger poke would have created a new fold.  Their fabric-like fluidity is breathtaking.

I took a lot of close up shots, because I couldn't resist looking closely at the 30 different methods he developed for crushing, crumpling, and folding the metal.  In one of the videos in the exhibit El Anatsui says that he wants to viewer to be able to read the liquor bottle labels, i.e. inviting close viewing as well as taking in the whole. 

A Ghanaian who has lived in Nigeria since he was a young man, he makes reference to history - e.g. the colonial powers who brought liquor to Africa.  There is a sense of the imprint of the thousands of people whose hands touched the bottle caps that make up the work.  The ultimate in re-purposed trash, these objects are transformed into work that is beyond just beautiful, beyond fabulous design, but actually spiritually sublimely transcendent.

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