Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui
Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui highlights the artist’s most recent work and features 11 monumental metal wall and floor sculptures widely considered to represent the apex of El Anatsui’s career. In addition, a series of drawings illuminates the artist’s process, while wooden wall reliefs reference his extensive work in wood and display fascinating compositional relationships to the large metal pieces.
El Anatsui’s work has won worldwide acclaim for its power and splendor. He is widely celebrated for transforming discarded objects into shimmering, pliable artworks of monumental beauty. Drawing on artistic and aesthetic traditions from his birth country of Ghana, his home in Nigeria, and various Western art forms including modernist and post-modern modes of expression, Anatsui culls from his environment, both natural and manmade, as a source of material and motivation.
Merging personal, local, and global concerns into his work, Anatsui has said he is inspired by the “huge piles of detritus from consumption” due to West Africa’s limited recycling technology. Cultural, economic, and social issues of colonialism, globalism, waste, and consumerism are explored under the cloak of beauty.
In Nigeria, local distilleries produce dozens of different brands of spirits in bottles of various sizes that are recycled after use. The discarded aluminum tops, seals, and labels, however, are gathered by the artist. After being bent, twisted, and pieced together, they are transformed into massive, richly colored, and luxuriously textured tapestries. Given liquor’s key history in the slave trade, these works reference earlier relationships between Europe, Africa, and the United States.
Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui invites visitors to question where art comes from, as well as explore the development of works by this internationally celebrated artist. In his work, Anatsui strikes a rare combination of stunning beauty, fascinating communal process, and deep metaphorical and poetic meaning. Just as the work is greater than the sum of its thousands of parts, its meaning transcends the particular cultural influences that contribute to the artist’s psyche and embody something universal that strikes a chord in every one of us.
Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui is organized by the Akron Art Museum and made possible by a major grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The San Diego presentationis made possible by generous lead underwriting gifts from Dr. Paul Jacobs, Maryanne and Irwin Pfister, and Sheryl and Harvey White. Additional funding has been provided with proceeds from the 2014 Art Auction. Institutional support of MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Fund.