Fading Scroll, 2007, aluminum and copper wire, 88 x 472 inches
I have given up trying to cover gallery shows while they’re still up. That’s the job of a paid journalist. My reportage is typically presented after the fact, and until my twin clones are perfected, that’s probably the way it will remain.
So here we are at the Jack Shainman Gallery on 20th Street at the end of January. The show is El Anatsui’s "Zebra Crossing." God, I love this work: large, fluid expanses that hang slightly away from the wall, occasionally bulging or sagging as they yield their great weight to gravity.
Zebra Crossing III, 2007, aluminum and copper wire, 61 x 107 inches
The work embodies some lovely dualities. There’s an underlying geometry to the structure. Strips of metal—the aluminum wrapping from the neck of liquor bottles—are pierced and held together with twisted wire, row-on-row, but the overall effect is one of fluidity and organic growth. The patterns are textile-like in their structure, like Ghanian kente cloth, but sculptural in their presence. The work is made of junk, but the light shimmers sublimely across the surface. And of course there’s the metaphor of transcendence. It took the labels from a damn lot of devil water to make this celestially beautiful work.
Area B, 2007, aluminum and copper wire, 155 x 236 inches
You can call this work sculpture, tapestry or painting, and any description would be correct.
El Anatsui is a professor of sculpture at the University of Nigeria, so perhaps sculpture is the word he would use. But the relative flatness of the surface suggests painting. Think, for instance, of the gilding and drape of Klimt. And the structure does suggest tapestry. Are you familiar with the work of Colombian-born artist Olga de Amaral, whose large scale tapestries are painted and gilded? See both below.
Above, Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, oil on canvas with gold and silver gilding, now at the Neue Gallery, New York City; The Kiss
Below: Olga de Amaral, Cesta Lunar, fiber, gold leaf, acrylic
More El Anatsui: Takari in Black, 2007, aluminum and copper wire, 60 x 76 inches. This one is my favorite. I particularly like the coolness of the silvery hue, and the organic geometry of the composition.
In case you’re interested, the prices ranged from $250,000 for the smaller works, such as the one above, to $500,000 for the big one that opened the post And every single one on the gallery list had a red dot. A sante!