El Anatsui Gets Five Decade Retrospective at The School

El Anatsui,They Saw Us Through Puffs of Smoke

El Anatsui,They Saw Us Through Puffs of Smoke

(KINDERHOOK, N.Y.) – Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui will be the subject of a comprehensive survey spanning the last fifty years of his celebrated career, at Jack Shainman Gallery: The School, opening on Sunday, May 17, 2015, with a reception from 1 to 4pm. The works will remain on view through September 26, 2015. The exhibition, “Five Decades,” includes compositions in painting, wood, and clay, and metal works. The show, which marks the first anniversary of the opening of The School, comes on the heels of El Anatsui being awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale.

The earliest work in the exhibition dates from the late 1970s when Anatsui began his tenure as a professor of art at the University of Nsukka, Nigeria. Selected clay sculptures from The Broken Pots series, 1977, line the perimeter gallery. While the goal of much pottery is utilitarian, these cracked and chipped ceramic and manganese vessels deny their usability. They are broken and reconfigured, much in the way that individual remembrances can be reconstructed to resurrect collective history. In Chamber of Memory, Anatsui references traditional Nigerian terracotta, and fashions tiny pockets inside the skull-like form to convey the object as a site of lasting historical and cultural memory. Placed on pedestals, the series demonstrates even a small fragment can have tremendous resonance.

Sculptures in wood dominate much of Anatsui’s artistic output from the 1980s and 90s. Works from this period, such as Assorted Seeds II, 1989, with their heavy intaglio lines and subtle gradations in color, find kin in the bold-banded acrylic paintings and etchings from the same time.  Later forays in wood incorporate intricate saw marks (Fan, 1995) and flashes of colorful paint (Old Cloth Series, 1993).

El Anatsui, Adinkra Sasa

El Anatsui, Adinkra Sasa

The tension between fragility and resilience inherent in the medium of clay, and the radical formal properties of the wood work, come full circle in the majestic metal wall-hangings for which Anatsui is best known. Meticulously assembled from discarded aluminum often sourced from liquor bottles, the recycled materials coalesce in exquisite constellations that track postcolonial exchange and global abstract traditions. Stressed World, 2011 is a quintessential example: delicate yet monumental. Hovering between sculpture and painting, the metal constructions defy categorization and have solidified Anatsui’s status as a groundbreaking visual artist of international critical acclaim.

El Anatsui was born in Ghana and currently lives and works between Ghana and Nigeria. Current solo exhibitions include Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, from March 5 – June 28, 2015. This exhibition was organized and previously on view at the Akron Art Museum, Ohio, Brooklyn Museum, New York, the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa and the Bass Museum of Art in Miami, Florida. Anatsui has been featured in international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (1990 and 2007) and the Paris Triennial (2012). Recent large scale public installations include Broken Bridge II, commissioned by High Line Art and presented by Friends of the High Line (2012-2013), and Tsiatsia – Searching for Connection, which was installed on the façade of the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2013.

Anatsui is included in numerous public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Washington; the Akron Art Museum, Ohio; St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri; Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf; the Setagaya Museum, Tokyo, and the British Museum, London, England.

The School is open on Saturdays from 11 am to 5 pm.

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