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El Anatsui
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Downtown San Diego, California
Recommendation by Cathy Breslaw

El Anatsui, "Ink Splash," 2010, aluminum and copper wire, 119 x 124". Photo: Andrew McAllister, courtesy the Akron Art Museum

Continuing through June 28, 2015

El Anatsui is an African artist who shares time between his childhood home in Ghana and Nigeria. He is a mature artist whose artistic sensibility can be traced to the 1960’s and 70’s, when painters, sculptors and installation artists experimented with what had previously been regarded as non-art materials. The artist takes this aesthetic ethos about as far as possible, working with a combination of thousands of liquor bottle labels, bottle caps, wire ties and round tin can tops that are wire stitched, then fastened together with copper wire. The sheer massive size of these textile-like wall works make them immersive. Though the backstory of the work speaks of the cultural, economic, and social issues of colonialism, globalism, waste and consumerism, we are mostly caught up in the works' sheer visceral presence.

Together with their size, shimmering and flowing patterns of gold, silver, red, blue and brown colors weave through each piece. There is also a series of oversized "Wastepaper Bags" (five to eight feet, made of aluminum and newspaper) that speak to the problem of waste recycling. Two additional rooms are devoted to El Anatsui’s drawings and wooden wall reliefs with metal and paint. The artist carves and scorches with chainsaws and routers to gouge, torch and mark the many previously used wooden slats. These make reference to contemporary abstract visual systems of communication, as well as to the ancestry of the African people. Though complex in their compositional elements, there is a particular directness and raw simplicity in these wood reliefs that is missing in the massive wall tapestries. It is interesting to note that these massive works are created with the help of about thirty assistants. When they are hung in the various museums and other venues in which they are exhibited, the installers are free to manipulate these cloth-like metal works and hang them as they desire. This ‘global collaboration’ is entirely consistent with the underlying spirit of his work.

Published Courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2015

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