Thursday, May 23rd, 2013...9:43 pm

El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum

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El Anatsui - Gli

I must have mentioned before that my favorite museum of all time is the Brooklyn Museum, right?  Yesterday’s visit definitely lived up to all that I imagine every time I step through its doors.  Museums nowadays have the struggle to engage audiences more than ever.  In an age of technology and instant gratification, it’s difficult to grab the attention of visitors, especially younger ones!  The Brooklyn Museum, in the two exhibits I visited, did a superb job of combining art and text on the wall with video, audio, and tactile activities, to ensure that museum visitors were well engaged.  In the El Anatsui exhibition space (three large rooms), iPads with 30 second videos were strategically placed on benches.  Curators and art experts spoke about a specific element of Anatsui’s art, and then asked the museum visitor a question.  When the video ended, the iPad would take you to an interactive page of comments, where you can add to the conversation!  There was even a station where visitors can make their own “wall hangings” with scrap paper and twist-ties.  You might think this activity sounds juvenile, but many of the adult visitors enjoyed the arts and crafts!  In the Sargent watercolor exhibition, videos were displayed on the walls, depicting different watercolor techniques he may have used in his paintings.  There was also a section of the room dedicated to explaining the science behind art analysis – infrared, carbon detection, x-rays, and more!

The exhibit that I would like to focus on, though, is El Anatsui’s Gravity and Grace.  I’m not much of a modern art fanatic, especially when it comes to abstract modern art.  I much prefer to view a subject and understand what the artist was trying to depict, rather than feast my eyes on a jumbled mess.  That being said, I must say out of the two main exhibits I saw – one abstract modern art, and the other slightly impressionistic – I much preferred the former!  Most of Anatsui’s art, or at least most of his recent work, is created from found material such as bottle caps, can lids, and wire.  It is amazing how light he is able to make his work, though in reality, the walls of bottle caps must be extremely heavy.  I likened Gli (image above) to a light ribbon scarf that one might be able to knit.  But upon closer examination, you can see the sharp edges of torn metal.  Many of his other works, much more solid and tightly packed, looked nice enough to wrap myself in on a cold winter’s night – though, again, I think I’d get majorly cut if I attempted such act!


Would I have appreciated this work as much if I had only learned about it in an Art History class?  I think the experience at the museum and being able to see the work face to face really made the effect that much stronger.  Texture, scale, and color are not as visible in a projected image.  I also don’t think I would have gotten as much out of the exhibit if it weren’t for the explanations of the work on the walls and in the videos.  For example, Gli was an astonishing and awe-inspiring piece of art, but other than that, at first glance I saw no meaning in it.  In El Anatsui’s language, the translation of the work means “wall.”  In its description, he says that walls, rather than keeping people separated, spark interest and curiosity of what lays beyond the solid feature.  After understanding where Anatsui was coming from in his work, I was able to make my own observations.  Like I said earlier, the texture of the installations were almost paradoxical as they hung heavily yet lightly from the ceiling of the exhibition space.  Could this have a deeper meaning?  Walls might, materialistically, be heavy, solid, and sharp, but in reality encourage dialogue and contact between the two sides.  Another strong motif that El Anatsui highlights is interconnectedness.  In order for all of his pieces to work, each bottle cap or scrap metal must be connected to each other through wire twist ties.  When likening said bottle caps and scrap metal to human beings, one can extrapolate that society may only work through interconnectedness and understanding.  To heighten this idea of mutual understanding, he allows curators to display his pieces in their own way.  He doesn’t want to be “a dictator,” and each exhibit is put together differently.  The wall hangings in one exhibition may be smoothly laid against the blank white wall, while in another museum it is crumpled up for more texture.

Going into this exhibit with an open mind and no expectations really allowed me to appreciate it to the fullest.  It has made me realize that perhaps I’m not only interested in the art of antiquity, but that maybe I can appreciate all types – even modern abstract art!  This is the magic of museums – exposing previously close-minded individuals to new ideas!

El Anatsui – Gravity and Grace
Brooklyn Museum
February 8 – August 4, 2013

Marina B. Nebro

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