Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui

Karl and Bertl Arnstein Galleries
June 17, 2012 - October 7, 2012

"If you think that great contemporary art comes only from developed countries in the West, or from cities in fast-growing parts of China, India or Latin America, think again. Anatsui's immense and astonishing creations show that Africa is very much a continent to reckon with, artistically speaking — and we're not speaking of an ethno-kitsch revival of traditional tribal masks and the like. The Akron show focuses on more than a dozen large-scale works made by Anatsui and an army of assistants from thousands of discarded liquor-bottle caps or milk-can lids fastened together with short bits of copper wire." -Steven Litt, The Plain Dealer


The celebrated work of El Anatsui strikes a rare combination of stunning beauty, fascinating communal 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, condensed milk tins 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 twelve recent, 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, and wooden wall reliefs reference his earlier work in wood and bear fascinating compositional relationships to the large metal pieces. At once sculpture and painting, Anatsui’s wall hangings drape, ripple and cascade to reflect light and create shadowy pockets. As has been enthusiastically noted in reviews around the world, viewers of Anatsui’s work exult in its overwhelming splendor and in each work’s contradictory combination of weight and lightness. Just as each work is greater than the sum of its thousands of parts, its meaning transcends the particular cultural influences that inform the artist’s practice. Anatsui’s assembled objects embody a universal relatability that strikes a chord in every one of us. This exhibition is organized by the Akron Art Museum with major support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The opening reception for the exhibition and El Anatsui’s visit and lecture have been made possible by The Lehner Family Foundation and The Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation.