El Anatsui is an internationally acclaimed artist who transforms simple materials into complex assemblages that create distinctive visual impact. He uses resources typically discarded such as liquor bottle caps and cassava graters to create sculpture that defies categorization. His use of these materials reflects his interest in reuse, transformation, and an intrinsic desire to connect to his continent while transcending the limitations of place. His work can interrogate the history of colonialism, and draw connections between consumption, waste, and the environment, but at the core is his unique formal language that distinguishes his practice.
Anatsui is well-known for large scale sculpture composed of thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal sourced from local alcohol recycling stations and bound together with copper wire. These intricate works, which can grow to be massive in scale, are both luminous and weighty, meticulously fabricated yet malleable. He leaves the installations open and encourages the works to take different forms every time they are installed. In the 2003 Fowler Museum catalogue accompanying his touring exhibition El Anatsui: Gawu he said “I don’t want to be a dictator. I want to be somebody who suggests things.”
In morphing to fit various installation spaces, Anatsui’s sculptures, which are often wall-based, challenge long-held views of sculpture as something rigid and insistent and open up his work to exist on its own terms. “I work more like a sculptor and a painter put together,” he said in an interview with Chika Okeke-Agulu that accompanied a solo exhibition at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in (2011). In a New York Times review of his (2010) solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery, Roberta Smith wrote “…the works evoke lace but also chain mail; quilts but also animal hides; garments but also mosaic, not to mention the rich ceremonial cloths of numerous cultures. Their drapes and folds have a voluptuous sculptural presence, but also an undeniably glamorous bravado.”
El Anatsui was born in Ghana and currently lives and works between Ghana and Nigeria. Solo exhibitions include Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa. The exhibition was organized and previously on view at the Akron Art Museum, Akron, Ohio, and will travel to the Bass Museum of Art in Miami, Florida, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, California. Anatsui has been featured in many international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale in both (1990) and (2007) and the Paris Triennial in (2012). He has recently created large scale public installations, including Broken Bridge II, commissioned by High Line Art and presented by Friends of the High Line, on view on a wall next to the High Line from (2012-2013), and Tsiatsia – Searching for Connection, which was installed on the façade of the Royal Academy of Arts in London in summer (2013).
Anatsui is included in numerous private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Washington, the Akron Art Museum, Ohio, the St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri, the Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf, the Setagaya Museum, Tokyo, and the British Museum, London.
El Anatsui has been represented by Jack Shainman Gallery since 2008. Solo exhibitions with the gallery include Pot of Wisdom (2012), El Anatsui (2010) and Zebra Crossing (2008).
April 11 — August 10, 2014
As part of the Bass Museum of Art’s 50th anniversary celebrations, we are pleased to present Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui, the first solo show by this acclaimed artist to tour the United States. The exhibition highlights Anatsui’s recent work and features twelve monumental metal wall and floor sculptures, widely considered to represent the apex of his career to date. In addition, a series of works on paper illuminate his artistic process, while wooden wall reliefs reference his extensive work in other media.
Drawing on the artistic and aesthetic traditions of his birth country of Ghana, his home in Nigeria and various Western art forms and movements, Anatsui’s work combines personal, local and global concerns. The artist’s most recent pieces are inspired by the “huge piles of detritus from consumption”, particularly in his local environment. Anatsui arranges for the collection of discarded aluminum bottle tops, seals and labels produced by local Nigerian distilleries, which are then bent, twisted and pieced together to create massive, colorful, richly-textured hanging works. Given liquor’s crucial role in the slave trade, these monumental pieces also reference colonial relationships between Europe, Africa and the United States.
October 25, 2013 — February 9, 2014
The celebrated work of El Anatsui strikes a rare combination of stunning beauty, labor-intensive process, and deep metaphorical and poetic meaning. A global artist, Anatsui draws on artistic and aesthetic traditions from his birth country of Ghana; his home in Nsukka, Nigeria; and various Western art forms. Anatsui’s work is about transformation. Using found materials such as printing plates, milk tin lids, and aluminum liquor bottle caps allows the artist full freedom to improvise and invent. Anatsui is also captivated by the history of use that such materials retain. For his metal wall hangings, Anatsui recycles bottle caps from a distillery in his home town, piecing them together to form monumental curtains patterned with rows upon rows of different brands of liquor bottle caps. For the artist, given liquor’s key history in the slave trade, these works reference relationships between Europe, Africa, and the United States. Not only does Anatsui’s alchemical transformation of discarded materials raise pressing issues of global consumerism, but it highlights the blurring of geographic identities. Gravity and Grace features monumental wall and floor sculptures widely considered to represent the apex of the artist’s career. In addition, a series of drawings illuminates the artist’s process, while wooden wall reliefs reference his earlier work in wood and bear fascinating compositional relationships to the large metal pieces...
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December 2013 - This exhibition of El Anatsui’s beautiful and magnificent works induced exhilaration, pleasure, and awe. The flattened scraps of metal—salvaged liquor-bottle tops and similar refuse—that make up Anatsui’s tapestry-like weavings form a kaleidoscope that is part abstract painting, part collage, and part assemblage. Here, the shimmering chromatic subtlety of a number of recent monochromes was juxtaposed with better-known pieces in which flamboyant crinkles and folds throw off splintered shards of color, elevating Anatsui’s humble material into the realm of the sublime.
Selected by Okwui Enwezor who is director of Haus der Kunst, Munich, and Global Distinguished Professor in the Department of Art History at New York University. He has headed numerous major international exhibitions.
On Monday 3 June, the President of the Royal Academy of Arts, Christopher Le Brun, declared that the prestigious £25,000 Charles Wollaston Award had been won by El Anatsui for his work, TSIATSIA – searching for connection, 2013, a site based, courtyard installation for the Royal Academy’s 245th Summer Exhibition. Presented to the ‘most distinguished work’ in the exhibition, the Wollaston Award is one of the most significant art prizes awarded in the country.
TSIATSIA – searching for connection is the largest wall-hanging sculpture that international artist El Anatsui has ever made using his unique bottle top technique. Measuring 15.6m x 25m, TSIATSIA - searching for connection, is an intricate, shimmering, metallic ‘wall-hanging’ created from aluminium bottle-tops, printing plates and roofing sheets, amongst other materials... READ MORE >>