They’re big, they’re from Africa, they’re hung in one of the most spectacular art spaces in the City, and you need to see them before August 18. If you’re going out to Brooklyn to see the Sargent show, be sure to see the spectacular contemporary installation, Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui.
The one-man retrospective of London-trained Ghanaian artist El Anatsui (his first) takes up half of the Brooklyn Museum’s Fifth Floor, but really shines under the skylight in the Iris and B. Gerald Gallery.
You might have seen his large piece hung in the African gallery on the First Floor of the Met or his installation in the 20s on the High Line, but in Brooklyn you’ll see 30 big, shimmering pieces arranged on walls and suspended under the dome. They’re all made out of scrounged metal material and wire from garbage dumps near his home, but the experience of seeing these big, beautiful pieces could not feel further from the source.
Hung from the ceiling, the metal-and-wire pieces look like open-weave textiles fabricated on a grand scale. Visitors wander through Anatsui’s hangings, silently gazing, stepping up to look close, and then move further back to wonder how he creates such a lightweight, effortless illusion from years of collected, flattened, punched bottle caps and stuff.
Two more galleries feature other large-scale works, arranged and pinned on walls, bunched like beautiful fabrics. Anatsui creates his gigantic constructions, carefully sorting the different colors of metal from the various brands of beverages. He says it’s like doing a watercolor wash, and when you view the work in person, you’ll be stunned by the variety of color, pattern, and lovingly arranged metal tapestries.
Here’s a time-lapse video of the Brooklyn crew installing the show, initially mounted at the Akron Art Museum. Anatsui says that he enjoys giving installation crews and curators a lot of leeway in how they hang his work, and he was a little surprised (in a good way) about some of the choices by the crew in Brooklyn. See for yourself. The big, shiny silver sculptures snaking across the floor are made of milk tin lids.