If the #RembrandtUSA exhibition captured the dark, solemn nature of winter, the North Carolina Museum of Art has got the Spring cure to your Winter blues.
Sunday March 18, the North Carolina Museum of Art will unveil a completely surprising exhibition.
African Contemporary Artist El Anatsui shares a varied collection of his work in a sparkling array of shimmer and grit.
Stay! Do not leave!
I know the major patronage of our fine state-endowed institution is not a strong fanbase for contemporary art.
El Anatsui, however, has such a fascinating exploration of material use, story-telling, and sheer size, I honestly feel you will break my heart by not making every effort to visit this exhibition!
Let me start with my expectations.
Not being familiar with his work, I imagined a lot of, well, African art. Wood. Abstract. Things that look like beasts. Ignorant of me, perhaps.
Also, what I expected based on the piece currently owned by the NCMA and housed in the new West Building can be summed up with what I told Marc the night before the media preview:
“His work is a lot of sculptural pieces made out of trash found in Africa. Probably trash dumped there by American companies.”
America-bashing and environmentalism are always easy assumptions for pseudo-granola-loving 30-somethings. Besides, contemporary art always has some big political message anymore, right?
Instead, I was nearly instantly caught in a transformed world where “trash” turns into whimsy and gallery lights into sunbeams.
I felt like a child swept up in an imaginary land.
I had a similar experience when Marc and I went to see Where the Wild Things Are in the theater three years ago.
Giant sheets of color hung on the wall seem to sway from a breeze. Metallic glints sparkle from the most unexpected places. Even heavier pieces give me an immediate sense of happy and love.
People of driftwood seem to walk right out from the waves and stand with us to hear Curator of Contemporary Art at the Museum for African Art Lisa Binder and NCMA Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art Linda Dougherty talk about their conversations with “El” and time installing the pieces. Even as the women speak, I heard El’s personality, humor, and charm. He won me over instantly.
We found out El Anatsui is careful never to refer to any of his art as “recycled” material. His work speaks of environment, but not environmentalism. He focuses on using what he sees every day, what he and his friends use in their environment.
Metal scraps from bottle tops, meticulously cut and placed; ceramic; wood; driftwood; paintings; unexpected splashes of bold color like a surprise homage to the 1980s. All of these items are from his environment, but far from him dwelling in a land of American debris. The bottle tops, for instance, are largely accumulated from drinks he and friends shared during a certain period of his life. Now, he gets most of them used from a local distillery.
If you have ever seen El Anatsui’s work elsewhere, or see it in the future, the exact same pieces are likely to look very different, as each piece has its own life and mobility. Linked with copper wire or made of interlocking pieces of wood, most of his work not only can be changed every time it is installed, but nearly has no other choice.
El Anatsui uses what is in his immediate environment to tell stories of relationships, and even the pieces themselves are as fluid and dynamic as any relationship in your life. Like a conversation that keeps unfolding with tangents, each piece made me feel like El was with us in the gallery, laughing and playing with each piece.
I was consistently mesmerized with how bottle caps – repurposed scraps of aluminum and tin – felt so rich, so vibrant, and so luxurious. I was a princess in his world, and the palace was covered in treasures complete with a treasure trove of gold medallions.
Seriously, I never thought I would think words like “luxurious”, “vibrant”, and “magical” would describe how I felt about either contemporary art or African art… yet here I am doing just that.
I have never had an experience like this at any other museum.
I have never had an experience like this at any other exhibition.
If you think of museums as mausoleums, perhaps you, more than anyone else, need to visit the El Anatsui exhibition at North Carolina Museum of Art.
The show lasts March 18 through July 29, 2012. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, military, students and groups of 10 or more. Children 12 years and younger are subject to lesser (or free) pricing, and college students with current I.D.s are free on Friday 5-9 pm.
Check out the North Carolina Museum of Art on Facebook and Twitter to learn more, find out what other exhibitions are happening, and to see a really rad time-lapse video of the installation of “Stressed World” for the Anatsui show!
~ Ashley Sue
PS. To see a few more photos from El Anatsui to get you jazzed to visit yourself, you can view the album here. Always remember, however… no photo or print can ever do justice to an actual work of art!
PPS. I would like to give special thanks to
The North Carolina Museum of Art for everything you do for our great state!
Larry Wheeler for continuing to work with an exciting vision and create team
The entire NCMA team for making us New Media folks feel so welcomed, for inviting us at all, and for making our day so completely spectacular with interviews, behind the scenes looks at building the exhibition, and insight into the work of both the museum and the artists:
Chad Weinard, New Media Manager
Jennifer Warner, NCMA Marketing Manager
Natalie Braswell, NCMA Assistant Marketing Manager
Shannon Harris, Exhibition Designer
Lisa Binder, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Museum for African Art, New York
Linda Dougherty, NCMA Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art
And thank you to the other New Media friends touring El Anatsui yesterday. Time with you and laughing over conversation and lunch at Iris is as relational as we could get. I think El Anatsui would be proud at how his works worked:
Neveryoumind, as much as I want to own “Takari in Blue”, I feel identically about “Tagomizer”. Find it in the gallery and let me know what you think!
“Something that was touched, something that was consumed, and now tells another story.”
- A life’s work by an Artist, his life, his art, his environment, and now us.