Friday, Feb 20, 2015 - 2:24 pm

San Diego, CA—The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) and The San Diego Museum of Art are pleased to present internationally renowned artist El Anatsui as the featured speaker for the 15th annual Axline Lecture on Saturday, March 7, at 11 AM in Sherwood Auditorium at MCASD’s La Jolla location. Anatsui’s exhibition, Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui, will be on view at MCASD’s downtown location from March 5 through June 28, 2015. 

El Anatsui will be in conversation with MCASD Chief Curator Kathryn Kanjo. Tickets to the Axline Lecture are $5 for Members, and $10 for non-members. Please note, this lecture is anticipated to sell out. Tickets will be available for pick-up at box office will-call with proof of identification the day of the event only. Unclaimed tickets will be released for sale to the general public at 11:10 AM. Lecture tickets may be redeemed for free admission to the exhibition at MCASD Downtown through Sunday, March 8.

For interviews with the artist or high resolution images of his artwork, please contact Communications Associate Patricia B. Dwyer or Communications & Marketing Manager Leah Straub. 

El Anatsui is best known for transforming simple materials into complex assemblages that create distinctive visual impact. Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui will highlight the artist's most recent work and feature 11 of the monumental metal wall and floor sculptures widely considered to represent the apex of El Anatsui's career. 

This exhibition has traveled throughout the nation from the Akron Art Museum in Akron, Ohio, and is making its final stop here in San Diego. Gravity and Grace features Anatsui's signature hangings composed of discarded liquor bottle caps, milk tin lids, and aluminum printing plates. Anatsui uses copper wire to connect countless units of cut and folded metal into massive expanses. The frugality of the materials and this patchwork technique suggest the mass consumption habits that his accumulations evidence, and counter the opulence of the finished objects. Whether hanging from the ceiling or on the wall, Anatsui’s works are refigured and draped anew each time they are installed. Malleable and shimmering, they bridge painting and sculpture, taking on a different form with every installation. He wishes for his art to remain fluid, reflecting the ever-changing nature of life. The exhibition's 11 metal objects, along with Anatsui’s wall reliefs of reclaimed wood and works on paper, will fill MCASD Downtown’s 10,000-square feet of gallery space, with the largest piece spanning 35 feet.

Born in 1944 in Anyako, Ghana, Anatsui has maintained a complex relationship with traditional African art throughout his more than 40-year artistic career. Raised by a Presbyterian minister uncle, Anatsui was oriented from an early age toward Western religious ideals and modes of learning. Anatsui’s education at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana (1965-69) focused on Western art and history, since the institution continued to operate under the British education model during Ghana’s post-colonial transition.

As a result, Anatsui gained much of his knowledge of African art through direct observation of indigenous artists and independent research. While teaching art in Winneba, Ghana in the late 1960s, he studied the techniques of traditional weavers, carvers, drummers, and musicians, whose visual and musical representation of abstract concepts attracted him. Particularly inspired by Akan Adinkra cloth, Anatsui has cited the Adinkra symbol Sankofa, the notion of “looking back and picking up,” as a key concept in his practice. Though his metal wall hangings have been associated with Kente cloth, the artist does not claim it as a direct source stating, “I think that cloth has been maybe an unconscious influence.”

Leaving Ghana in 1975 to teach art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka was an important catalyst for Anatsui. He states, “If I had lived in Ghana, my mind wouldn’t have roamed, therefore I wouldn’t have expanded my experiences.” In Nigeria, as in Ghana, Anatsui engaged with a variety of local, pre-colonial art forms. During this time, he solidified the core principles of his artistic practice: learn from local artists, use found materials, consider location and environment, and embrace the metaphoric potential of artworks.

Anatsui’s art career flourished in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s, where he was highly respected for his innovative use of materials and metaphors rooted in the history of Africa. After participating in an exhibition of African artists in the 1990 Venice Biennale, Anatsui was recognized by critics and scholars around the world. Discovering a sack of discarded bottle caps in 1999 initiated a new chapter in Anatsui’s career that catapulted him onto the global contemporary art stage. In 2010, after 35 years of teaching at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Anatsui retired to focus on his studio work.

Since 2000, MCASD and The San Diego Museum of Art have partnered to present the annual Axline Lecture in honor of Jackie and Rea Axline, long-time trustees and supporters of both museums who in 1999 bequeathed generous endowments to both institutions. Hosted on alternate years by each museum, this annual event offers an opportunity to say thank you to current museum members, donors, and supporters.

Previous Axline Lectures have featured artist and filmmaker Alredo Jaar (2014), sculptor Charles Ray (2013), South African artist William Kentridge (2011), artists Maya Lin (2008) and Richard Serra (2006); art critic Roberta Smith (2004); architect, Picasso scholar, and author John Richardson (2009); and former director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello (2012).

MCASD Patron level Members and above and The San Diego Museum of Art members at the Circle level are invited to a pre-lecture hosted brunch in Axline Court at MCASD La Jolla at 9:30 AM. The menu will be designed by Authentic Flavors Catering. To RSVP for the hosted brunch and reserve complimentary tickets to the lecture, email or call 858 454 3541 x120 by February 27. The San Diego Museum of Art Circle members may make reservations by calling 619 696 1941.

About The San Diego Museum of Art
The San Diego Museum of Art is located at 1450 El Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego, Calif., 92101.
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Providing a rich and diverse cultural experience, The San Diego Museum of Art houses the world’s finest art in America’s Finest City. Located in the heart of Balboa Park, the Museum’s renowned collections include Spanish and Italian old masters, South Asian paintings including the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection of Indian painting, and 19th and 20th century American paintings and sculptures. The Museum regularly features major exhibitions of art from around the world, as well as an extensive year-round schedule supporting cultural and educational programs for children and adults. At The San Diego Museum of Art, exhibition text is always in English and Spanish.

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Founded in 1941, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) is the preeminent contemporary visual arts institution in San Diego County. The Museum's collection includes more than 4,000 works of art created since 1950. In addition to presenting exhibitions by international contemporary artists, the Museum serves thousands of children and adults annually at its varied education programs, and offers a rich program of film, performance, and lectures. MCASD is a private, nonprofit organization, with 501(c)3 tax-exempt status; it is supported by generous contributions and grants from MCASD Members and other individuals, corporations, foundations, and government agencies. Hugh M. Davies is The David C. Copley Director and CEO at MCASD.

Institutional support for MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.