Akron Art Museum’s Anatsui exhibit gigantic hit
|Shown is the title piece, “Gravity and Grace,” featured in the Art Akron Museum’s new exhibition Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui.|
In walking through the galleries devoted to Anatsui’s works, the viewer will be essentially awestruck. “Wow” will be the usual expression it would seem. The museum organized and premiered the exhibit June 16, and it will be on display through Oct. 7.
Anatsui’s pieces are both breathtaking and fascinating — not simply for scale — but for his highly visual sense, simple but tightly rendered color palette and flair for dramatic statements in visual form.
Ghanian-born abstract artist Anatsui hit the artistic big time in 2007 at the famed Venice Biennale where, according to museum officials, his pieces attracted attention befitting the huge scale of his metal artworks.
Capitalizing on the museum’s prescience to both purchase and display an Anatsui work that same year in its galleries (“Dzesi II,” the large-scale metallic tapestry made from aluminum liquor bottle caps and copper wire), Interim Chief Curator Ellen Rudolph worked in collaboration with the artist and the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York to exhibit Anatsui’s most recent work and 12 monumental metal wall and floor sculptures. In addition, a series of drawings illuminates the artist’s process, while wooden wall reliefs reference his extensive work in wood and display compositional relationships to the large metal pieces.
According to Arnie Tunstall, collections manager for museum, it took weeks to install the pieces.
According to Anatsui, he wants each place where his works appear to be rethought and arranged by the group showing his work.
The Akron Art Museum has done an amazing job on that score. Museum walls are about 30 feet high. Anatsui’s pieces fill nearly the width of the wall and cascade in several instances from floor to ceiling and beyond, like his work that lends its name to the title of the exhibition, “Gravity and Grace.” Flowing across the wall from gold through reds to white and blues, the enormous aluminum and copper wire extends for a bit across the floor.
In another room, his “Gli” or “Wall” takes up the entire space. It is actually in five gigantic pieces and becomes a kind of labyrinth underlining his fascination with the concept of walls and human responses to them. Taking his cue from such things as the Berlin Wall (and its political overtones), the Jerusalem wall and its connection to religious and spiritual significance, and a precolonial African city wall in what is now Togo, Anatsui taps into our predilection to overlay such structures with important meaning.
Viewers who attend this exhibition will get an appreciation for an artist who takes his native continent’s detritus and turns it into African artistic expression. Anatsui uses liquor bottle tabs, the remains of milk cans and the like to tell the story that has been “written upon them,” as he once said. The tiny pieces, much like African kente cloth, are cut into narrow strips and merged into a grand design. Anatsui extends that tradition, where his weaving is instead with wire, much like the metallic chains that bound together slaves for export to the New World. Liquor apparently has its own connection to the slave trade, both as lure and exchange.
Mammoth sculptures aren’t the only media in which Anatsui works. There are smaller but equally fascinating woodcarvings from pieces of bark that he found laying around. He makes them look like stylized people. He also works in traditional painting medium. There are two acrylic and wax on paper paintings called “Zuma” and “Kente Reminiscence” that bear great scrutiny.
Kudos to the Akron Art Museum for organizing and launching this timely exhibition and for bringing the artist to town for the start of the exhibit June 16.
There are several programs associated with the exhibit; for details on those, visit www.AkronArtMuseum.org.
The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. General admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors (65 and older) and free for children (17 and younger) and members. Special exhibits may require paid admission.
Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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