by Sukanya GargMar 21, 2020
El Anatsui's survey exhibition, Triumphant Scale at Haus der Kunst in Munich—the first ever in Europe—is the most comprehensive and detailed presentation of his oeuvre thus far. The exhibition is organized in cooperation with Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Museum of Fine Arts, Berne, and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.
The exhibition comprises key works from five decades of the artist's career. At the core of the exhibition, which focuses on the triumphant and monumental nature of El Anatsui's groundbreaking oeuvre, are the bottle-cap works from the last two decades, with their majestic, imposing presence and dazzling colors. The exhibition also presents the lesser known wood sculptures and wall reliefs from earlier creative periods, as well as drawings, prints, and sketchbooks.
The exhibition reveals the artist's tireless preoccupation with the question of how a contemporary sculptural concept can be developed from the rich plastic innovations of classical and traditional African art. El Anatsui has persistently worked to transform the formal and sculptural possibilities of African sculptural idioms and he has repeatedly revised and reinvented his material and compositional techniques to astonishing effect—from the early wooden reliefs with their incised markings and broken ceramic forms, to the monumental outdoor cement sculptures, and, more recently, the vast and spectacular metal wall and floor works, which blur the boundaries between sculpture, painting and assemblage. In El Anatsui's hands, light, form, color, porousness and corporeality merge into awe-inspiring and triumphant works of art.
El Anatsui’s "Broken Pot" series of the 1970s is characterized by the use of negative space and fragmentation as a structuring principle, and as metaphoric statement about life, history and memory. The wood works from the following decade create intimacy less by their relatively small scale than by their incised markings, inspired by the Adinkra signs of the Akan and Uli motifs of the Igbo, or indigenous West African writing systems, such as Nsibidi, Bamum and Vai scripts. The wood sculptures also have distinctive gestural markings made with the chain saw. The metal works, produced since 2000, dwarf the viewer with their magnificence and imposing scale, while captivating at close range with their jewel-like detail.
As El Anatsui commented in 2003, the use of found materials is of fundamental importance. "I experimented with many materials. I also work with material that has experienced a lot of touch and use by people... and these types of materials and works are more charged than materials or pieces that I have worked with machines. Art grows out of any specific situation, and I think artists should work better with what their environment currently provides," he says.
Fascinated by the museum’s monumental architecture, El Anatsui has created three works especially for this exhibition: two indoor works, Logoligi Logarithm and Rising Sea, and Second Wave on the approximately 110m long façade of Haus der Kunst, incorporates several thousand offset printing plates. The plates have been folded, pressed, layered, riveted, bent, curved and welded into 22 panels, each ten meters high and four meters wide, connected by bridging elements. The installation combines a strong physicality with structural indeterminacy.
The exhibition was curated by Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu. The exhibition is on view from March 8 to July 28, 2019.