Thursday, January 17, 2013

El Anatsui: Emperor of Upcycle

Cups of the Day #116, by Gwyneth Leech
Mixed media on upcycled paper coffee cups
The artwork of Nigerian artistEl Anatsui boggles the imagination - how does he do it? Working with tens of thousands of recycled liquor bottle tops, colored metal foils and similar detritus, he uses snippets of copper wire to assemble magnificent, abstract, undulating wall-hung sculptures. Often map-like, they also reference Kente cloth and other cultural and historical traditions of his native Ghana and West Africa, but in a wholly contemporary way. 

In January, I was able to get very close to these astonishing pieces when they were on view at Jack Shainman gallery in Chelsea - an impulse to proximity which all visitors seem to share. That show has closed, but there is a new opportunity to study his artwork up close with the opening of Gravity and Grace: the Monumental Art of El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum, February 8th through August 14th, 2013.

This and images below: El Anatsui artworks at Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 West 20th Street, NYC.
Made from recycled metal and copper wire.

By contrast, another El Anatsui piece, presented by High Line Art, is designed to not be approachable at all. This vast installation covers the entire end wall of a block-wide building overlooking the High Line Park between West 21 and 22nd Streets. It can only been seen through a screen of shrubbery, and its ample use of mirrors bamboozles the eye. Has the wall been fractured? Whole sections, covered in rusted metal panels seem to become unmoored and float into the air. Called "Broken Bridge II", it is on view until  summer 2013, also courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery. Make sure to go see this spectacular public artwork from the Emperor of Upcycle!

El Anatsui, Broken Bridge II, 2012
Recycled Pressed Tin and Mirrors
37 x 157 Feet

"Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatusi" opens February 8th at the Brooklyn Museum and runs through August 14, 2013. Read Holland Cotter's review, A Million Pieces of Home" here.

El Anatsui, "Pot of Wisdom" at Jack Shainman, 513 West 20th Street, NYC ran through Saturday, January 19th. For more information click here.

To read more about "Broken Bridge II", on view at the High Line Park until summer 2013, and to see a video of the High Line Project in progress click here.

To learn more about El Anatsui's working process and the team of young male assistants he employs in Nigeria click here. This is an excellent 4 minute video from Art21.

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