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March 5, 2013

El Anatsui’s Gravity and Grace Exhibition

by Sara Langham

  • El Anatsui, In the World, But don’t know the World?, 2009
    El Anatsui, In the World, But don’t know the World?, 2009
  • El Anatsui, They Finally Broke the Pot of Wisdom, 2011
    El Anatsui, They Finally Broke the Pot of Wisdom, 2011
  • El Anatsui, Well-informed Ancestors, 1998
    El Anatsui, Well-informed Ancestors, 1998
  • El Anatsui, Hermit, 2012
    El Anatsui, Hermit, 2012
  • El Anatsui, Hesitant Rivers, 2012
    El Anatsui, Hesitant Rivers, 2012

El Anatsui comes out swinging in his first solo exhibition at a New York museum. Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum showcases 30 of his works, ranging from large site-specific sculptures to smaller wooden pieces.

The exhibition begins in spectacular fashion at the 5th floor pavilion of the museum. Sheer and shimmering curtain-like sculptures hang from the ceiling, some dragging on the floor and others hovering above, drawing the eye up and into the massive gallery. Viewers are free to move around the works, and only upon closer inspection does one notice these fabric-like sheaths are actually made from pieces of found metal, painstakingly intertwined and pieced together. In one corner of this space, the work Drainpipe reaches from the floor and up the wall with its tentacle like arms make from can tops.

Before moving into the next gallery of monumental works, a respite is given in a smaller room, where El Anatsui's less imposing carved wooden sculptures hang on the wall. These earlier works are a welcome break, and give a peek into the beginnings of the artist’s signature style.

The next space is the largest, and contains a feast for the eyes, with metal wall hangings in brilliant colors and imposing sculptures rising up from the floor. Waste Paper Bags is a departure from his metal works. These sculptures, made from discarded printing plates from Nigeria, are neutral and crinkly in appearance, looking like old paper crumpled into tall standing rectangles. These works are a stark but welcome contrast to the bright and sparkling golds, reds, and yellows that dominate most of the exhibition.

Another smaller space with drawings and wooden sculptures awaits you in the next room. Sprinkled throughout are TV screens showing informational videos on El Anatsui's life, method, and installation of his works. These videos are very welcome additions, since it’s impossible to see these intricate works and not wonder how they were constructed.

In the next gallery, the gentle sound of clinking metal draws the viewer to Ozone Layer. This decayed-looking sheet of intertwined metal hangs in front of cut out air vents, allowing the metal pieces to jingle as they hit against each other. While the works in this room are just as impressive as the previous ones, the awe felt by the entrance to the exhibit does wane a bit by this point. Nevertheless, these beautiful and intriguing works will stick in your mind long after you leave, so take a trip to the Brooklyn Museum and check out Gravity and Grace, which runs until August 4.

Sara Langham is a senior production editor for the artnet Price Database.

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