All That Glitters Is Not Gold

The room is bright––glittering almost. You walk through the double glass doors and there awaits a stream of gold medallions, a force of aluminum-coated beauty running up the wall from the floor. Gaze up at the ceiling and you’ll find luminous, bending loads of what you assume is fabric but later learn are bounds of woven metal. This is El Anatsui‘s show “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works” at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and it features Mr. Anatsui’s most recent works along with some earlier free-formed wooden pieces that show off his “hands-on” approach. Colorful, tangible and eccentric, El Anatsui’s works prove to be fruitful and overwhelming in their ability to connect with the audience.


Ghana meets New York


El Anatsui was born in Ghana but works in Nigeria with a team of studio assistants who assemble his “monumental works.” Using aluminum liquor bottle caps and similar mass consumer materials from his home, Anatsui weaves recycled materials into organic veneers––flashy curtain-like, crumpled drapes that bend awkwardly yet harmoniously. His graceful approach of turning mass culture into fine art allows the work to take on a relevant role in the world’s social and political climate.

IMG_2122Is that a giant pile of coins or are you just happy to see me? Photo: Steph Ziemann


“Gravity and Grace,” the title work, is both visually beautiful and elegant. In fact, I found this archetypal example of El Anatsui’s signature draperies to be the most astonishing piece of the exhibition as you cannot escape the shine and translucent luster within these discarded, half-burned, defaced recycled materials, leading you to be engrossed in what is typically considered “trash.”


Thanks to the huge variety of bottle capped drapery hanging on the walls and standing as sculptures on the floor, each piece looks spectacular from a distance and allows its audience to have a varied sensory experience. What I found most striking is not merely the innovative repurposing of ordinary objects but how Anatsui uses these objects to create a textured, metaphorical connection to the freedoms of the contemporary art world. The intricate patters he creates in works such as “Ink Splash” (2010) and “Mask of Humankind” (2010) beckon you to come close and explore the sumptuous, forever-changing and renewing aluminum drapes.


IMG_2108_editNadine Krueger and Laurie Sherman scope what’s on the walls. Photo: Steph Ziemann


In every one of El Anatsui’s pieces there is a sense of freedom. His independence in playing around with found objects proves his work to be confident, remaining unique. Just as each work glitters, but is not truly “gold,” its meaning transcends what is typically considered a work of art. El Anatsui’s re-configured objects embody a universal relatability that sets off a light beam in every one of us.


  • Brooklyn Museum of Art – El Anatsui “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works” – February 8– August 4, 2013 – Wednesday, Friday–Sunday: 11am–6 pm, Thursday: 11 am–10pm [Suggested contribution: $12, Reduced: $8]
Article by Marissa Mule