Gone, but Not Forgotten - Gravity and Grace, Monumental Works by El Anatsui

Lisa Morales
Oct 24, 2014 2:14PM

The first time I experienced the art of El Anatsui was in 2011 at Art Basel Miami Beach. As you may know, attending an art fair is, by far, not the intimate gallery or museum experience. So why among so many works of art could any one particular piece stay on my mind, I cannot answer.

Soon after returning home that day, I opened a bottle of wine, pressed a fragment of the seal flat, and wrapped the band around my finger to form a ring. I wondered, how much time and how many seals would it take to create such a large work? And, that question would be stored deep in my memory because I had no idea who the artist was.

Fast forward, three years later -- I decided to challenge myself and complete the Miami Art Museums Alliance passport and visit 7 Miami museums within four months. My third stop would be the Bass Museum of Art and, yet to be discovered, El Anatsui’s first solo show to tour the U.S. I first saw structures made from, milk can lids arranged on the floor and, after examining it closely, I looked up at a blue and silver tapestry-like piece hung on a wall. The security guard told me that she could not understand how a work that was visibly much larger in a brochure photo, could fit on a much smaller wall.

A walk up the ramp led to what I imagine was a monumental experience for anyone who attended. I finally made the connection.

On the Bass Museum’s website, you will read: “As the exhibition travels, each installation of Anatsui’s artwork will be quite different. The artist encourages museum staff to “sculpt” each metal piece as they install it, and so the works are condensed, expanded or reshaped to fit the space and sensibility of each institution. Derived from a communal process, the beautiful metal pieces displayed as part of Gravity and Grace transcend the artist’s particular cultural influences to embody a universal meaning.” (If you are curious about the installation process, I encourage you to watch this video.)

To think about the craftsmanship involved in creating many colossal works is impressive. However, the message is powerfully didactic. Massive waste, poverty, social and political turbulence – it hits you, but then retracts into visual splendor.

Unfortunately, the exhibit has ended. However, should you be in New York, visit the Jack Shainman Gallery that has represented El Anatsui since 2005. I will definitely go one day. Gone, but not forgotten.

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Lisa Morales