Canadian Art

El Anatsui: Reshaping the Everyday

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Oct 2 2010 to Jan 2 2011
El Anatsui  <i>Three Continents</i>  2009 Installation view © Royal Ontario Museum 2010  / photo Brian Boyle El Anatsui Three Continents 2009 Installation view © Royal Ontario Museum 2010 / photo Brian Boyle

El Anatsui <i>Three Continents</i> 2009 Installation view © Royal Ontario Museum 2010 / photo Brian Boyle

The Royal Ontario Museum is currently host to “El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa,” a 40-year career retrospective for the celebrated Ghanaian artist. It’s great luck to have the exhibition debut in Toronto. It was planned to premiere at the opening of the Museum for African Art’s new building on Fifth Avenue in New York, but ongoing museum construction delays got in the way.

Curator Robert Storr put Anatsui into the art world’s spotlight in 2007, when he hung Dusasa I and Dusasa II at the Venice Biennale. The grand bottle-top tapestries were a vision—no small feat given the cavernous Arsenale space. Similarly, the ROM installation can feel awkward and overly stylized in places, but Anatsui’s work shines nevertheless.

Anatsui’s wall hangings blur the boundaries between sculpture, installation, painting, craft and design. Sacred Moon, for example, is a rippling tapestry of flattened liquor-bottle caps sewn together using copper wire. Measuring nearly 12 feet across, this work is a virtual landscape. Islands of textured orange punctuate a sea of silver aluminum and a powerful asphalt stripe. Though it’s hung on a wall, Sacred Moon is by no means two-dimensional. The surface undulates gently and reads like a topographical model.

Geography plays an important part in Anatsui’s practice. His cascades of disposable bottle caps make a poignant comment on the environmental effects of our consumer culture. Simultaneously, the patterns he constructs pay homage to West African textile traditions, including kente. Using unremarkable found fragments, Anatsui urges us to reconnect with the philosophy of community.

The wall hangings are the exhibition headliners, but the artist’s other works are impressive too. In Open(ing) Market, Anatsui’s interest in economic networks is again evident. The installation features thousands of handmade tin boxes lined with product labels, including Nestlé and Dr. Pepper. The boxes are opened to varying degrees, creating a sense of movement and anticipation. Peak Project is composed of up to 50 sheets of linked Peak-brand milk-tin lids. Each sheet is displayed as a standing cone. The result is a strange army of anthropomorphic blobs that looks humorously unthreatening. Again, what comes across is Anatsui’s ability to animate, transform and reshape the everyday.

This article was first published online on October 27, 2010.

RELATED STORIES

  • Jayce Salloum: Bamiyan at the ROM

    As Deborah Campbell explains in her fall issue article “Reclamation Artist,” Vancouver-based artist Jayce Salloum has a long track record of not only exploding but exposing the political and social dynamite of Middle Eastern and Western realities. Here, a selection of six images from his recent ROM exhibition offers poignant evidence of Salloum’s moving world view.

  • Newsfront

    ROM Gains African Art; Art for the 2010 Winter Games; AGNS Looks South and West; Weber Wins York Prize; Richardson Shines at National Arts Awards in New York; Diamond to Head OCAD Until 2015; Gilles Hébert to Run New AGA

  • Dan Perjovschi: Drawing Criticism

    Dan Perjovschi’s large-scale installations of critically edged drawings on gallery walls have been featured at the Venice Biennale, Tate Modern and other notable venues. With his latest project now on in Toronto, Bryne McLaughlin talks with the artist about his life and work.

 

FOUNDATION NEWS

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

ONLINE

  • Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Black Birds

    New York critic Joseph R. Wolin heads to the Park Avenue Armory where Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are creating a buzz (and other sounds) at the US premiere of a dark, nightmarish installation originally created for the 2008 Biennale of Sydney.

  • Grange Prize 2012: Hot Shots

    One of Canada’s largest cash-value art prizes—$65,000 in total with $50,000 going to the winner, $5,000 to three runners-up—announced its finalists this week. Take in their wide-ranging works in this slideshow.

  • Wanda Koop: Into the Woods

    A visit to Wanda Koop’s cabin near Riding Mountain National Park in southern Manitoba proves intriguing for Vancouver critic Robin Laurence. There, Laurence writes, Koop bridges old Grey Owl myths with a new series of paintings on our increasingly digital culture.

  • Brad Tinmouth: Survival Strategies

    The basement of an art gallery may seem an unlikely place to create an emergency shelter. However, Xpace's lower gallery is an ideal setting for Brad Tinmouth's “If Times Get Tough or Even If They Don't,” which evokes a cold-war bunker.

  • Wim Delvoye: Blame it on Paris

    Silk-covered pigs, lattice-cut car tires and a tattooed man are just a few of the works that Belgian artist Wim Delvoye has shuttled into the old, Gothic wing of the Louvre this summer. Jill Glessing reviews, finding a terrific amalgam of high and low.

More Online

Report a problem