Art: Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui


Visitors to the Bass Museum of Art will enjoy an unprecedented opportunity to marvel at the acclaimed body of artwork by the internationally renowned artist El Anatsui, whose work has received worldwide acclaim for its power and splendor.

El_Anatsui_Portrait_17Gravity and Grace Monumental Works by El Anatsui, highlights Anatsui’s most recent work and features twelve monumental metal wall and floor sculptures that are widely considered to represent the apex of his career. In addition, a series of drawings illuminate the artist’s process, while wooden wall reliefs reference his extensive work in other materials and demonstrate relationships to the large metal pieces.

Drawing on artistic and aesthetic traditions from his birth country of Ghana, his home in Nigeria and various Western art forms and movements, including modernist and post-modern modes of expression, Anatsui merges personal, local and global concerns into his work. Anatsui has said he is inspired by the “huge piles of detritus from consumption”, particularly in his local environment.

Anatsui_AAM_8_ccIn 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 collected by the artist. After being bent, twisted and pieced together, they are transformed into massive, richly-colored and luxuriously-textured tapestries. Given liquor’s crucial role in the slave trade, these works reference colonial relationships between Europe, Africa and the United States.

Anatsui’s metal works erase the traditional distinction between painting and sculpture. Ellen Rudolph, one of the exhibition’s organizers comments, “At once sculpture and painting, his shimmering wall hangings drape, ripple and cascade to reflect light and create shadowy pockets, creating a fascinating interplay of color, shape and fluidity.” She continues, “As viewers, we must not only absorb the overwhelming splendor of each piece, but the artworks’ presence confronts us with a contradictory combination of weight and lightness, both physical and metaphorical.”

Anatsui_AAM_13As the exhibition travels, each installation will be slightly different. The artist encourages museum staff to “sculpt” each metal piece as they install it. These works will therefore be condensed, expanded or reshaped to fit the space and sensibility of each institution. “A human life is constantly in a state of change,” says the artist. “I want my artwork to replicate that. … I know there is an artist in each of us. … And the idea of giving freedom to people to configure my works is to awaken the artist in them.”

Born in 1944 in Ghana, Anatsui has lived and worked in Nigeria since 1978. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree from the College of Art, University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Art Education, University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. In 2008, in order to focus on his studio work, he resigned from his longtime position as a Professor of Art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he began teaching in 1975.

Anatsui_AAM_3Gravity and Grace opens at the Bass Museum of Art on April 11th and runs through August 10. The exhibition is part of the museum’s year-long 50th anniversary celebration.

?During the opening reception, Silvia Karman Cubiñà, Director and Chief Curator of the Bass Museum of Art will moderate a conversation with El Anatsui.

TO?GO: Thursday, April 10, 7-10pm. Free. Bass Museum of Art, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. For info: 305-673-7530 or

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