Nov 9, 2011

REVIEW| El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa| Blanton Museum of Art

 El Anatsui is a Nigeria-based artist from Ghana who has been creating all kinds of art from sculpture, wall hangings, paintings and more for his whole life. The exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art is a collection of that work. I was lucky enough to be in Austin for the weekend and had the chance to see it. Walking into the show room I felt overwhelmed because there was so much to look at. It was a big contrast from the entry way of the Blanton which is a large empty area with high ceilings, a stair case and a array of really beautiful blue cast acrylic tiles covering the walls.
I didn't know where to start because it was all compelling and each section demanded my attention. Typically I get bored when all of the pieces are from one artist but the differences in mediums kept me very interested. The art wasn't just hanging on the wall but also on tables in the middle of the room and even the floor. I got over the initial "I want to look/touch everything" feeling and started to view everything individually. I appreciated how there was enough space between them to be able to take each in as their own but there wasn't too much space that they felt completely separate.

El Anatsui
Sacred Moon, 2007
Aluminum and copper wire
I spoke with one of the museum's volunteers about Anatsui's visit to the Blanton and how he creates his more recent metal wall hangings (which were particularly amazing to see in person). She told me they were made of flattened Nigerian liquor bottle tops that he weaves together. She was lucky enough to watch some of the pieces be put up. They can be hung differently every time because they are so flexible. It struck me how malleable they are after I watched this video of the exhibition being set up by the Blanton staff and even the artist himself.

El Anatsui
Akua's Surviving Children, 1996
Wood and metal
It seemed to me that the curator had students in mind when setting up the show. In the back corner of the room, where you would end up after viewing everything, was an area with a round table holding books about the artist and a video interview as well. Mounted to the wall was magnetized gold fabric made to look like Anatsui's wall hangings that you could pull and play with to shape however you like. It was an interactive and fun way to end it. I highly recommend visiting the Blanton before January when the Museum for African Art's traveling exhibition, El Anatsui: When I last wrote to you from Africa, will be packed up and shipped to the North Carolina Museum of Art. The chance to see such a large and frankly awesome collection of work from an internationally acclaimed artist is definitely worth the visit!

Sara Beth Worcester


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