On February 8, “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui” opens at the Brooklyn Museum. To prepare for that exhibit, the West African artist’s first New York City solo museum show, visits to the Jack Shainman Gallery and the nearby High Line are in order. Through January 19, “El Anatsui: Pot of Wisdom” is up at Jack Shainman, a collection of eleven stunning works made out of found aluminum and copper wire, woven into stunning wall hangings (and one floor piece) that evoke fishing nets, maps, and communal tapestries. As one walks around the various rooms, the works offer different perspectives as seen from different angles and varying distances as El Anatsui explores line, color, and chance. The aluminum comes primarily from flattened caps from liquor bottles, relating to cultural and social situations in the artist’s native Ghana as well as his second home in Nigeria while also raising questions of consumerism and, of course, recycling. “They Finally Broke the Pot of Wisdom” glitters like gold. “Uwa” is a round ball held slightly aloft, a tail trailing behind hit. “Awakened” spills over onto the floor. Other titles range from the direct to the philosophical, from “Basin,” “Seed,” and “Ink Stain” to “Enlightened” and “Visionary.”
A few blocks away, El Anatsui has installed his largest public sculpture to date, along the High Line between Twenty-First and Twenty-Second Sts. “Broken Bridge II” is composed of recycled press tin and mirrors, 37 feet high and 157 feet long across the back side of a building. The rusted sheets of steel echo the wintry trees and plants in front of it, while the mirrors morph into the sky, sometimes appearing to be holes in the work; it will remain up through the summer, so it will change along with the seasons. The piece harkens back to man’s primal nature. “I believe that walls do two things,” El Anatsui told artdesigncafé in 2009. “They block views and hide things on one hand; and on the other, they provoke or activate the imagination and reveal things. . . . They hide and reveal.” It should be fascinating to see what El Anatsui hides and reveals in the upcoming show at the Brooklyn Museum.