El Anatsui's Gravity and Grace at Bass Museum Transforms Trash Into Art

The saying "One man's trash is another man's treasure" is taken literally with the opening of the latest art exhibition at the Bass Museum of Art.

Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui features the work of Ghanaian-born artist El Anatsui. The exhibition was organized by Ellen Rudolph, former interim chief curator of the Akron Art Museum, the artist, and Jack Shainman Gallery in New York, and opens Friday, April 11. You can check it out through August 10, and it's worth it to see how your everyday trash can become priceless pieces of art.

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Anatsui, who has lived in Nigeria since 1978, resigned from his longtime position as a Professor of Art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to fully pursue his passion of studio work. Anatsui's art has been cherished around the world and has been a part of private and public exhibitions, including in the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Centre Georges Pompidou, the Denver Art Museum, and plenty more. His rise to artistic prominence came after participating in the Venice Biennale in 1990 and 2007. In 2010, the Museum for African Art created a traveling retrospective of Anatsui's work called El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa.

Anatsui's work featured in Gravity and Grace will showcase 12 large metal wall and floor sculptures as well as a series of drawings that reveal Anatsui's process. Wooden wall reliefs will remind fans of Anatsui's work of his experimentation with other materials and reflect back on the bigger metal pieces.

The influence for Anatsui's work comes from the artistic traditions found in Ghana, Nigeria, and the West, including the modernist and post-modern movements. Combining his personal concerns along with concerns shared by local communities and the world, Anatsui states that he's inspired by the "huge piles of detritus from consumption," particularly in Nigeria, where distilleries produce different brands of liquors in bottles that are eventually recycled. The aluminum tops, labels, and seals that aren't used are collected by Anatsui and turned into spectacular tapestry-like pieces. The collection of materials from the liquor bottles also reference the importance of liqour in the slave trade, reflecting the relationships between Africa, Europe, and the United States.

Rudolph said Anatsui's pieces of artwork blur the lines between painting and sculpture.

"At once sculpture and painting, his shimmering wall hangings drape, ripple and cascade to reflect light and create shadowy pockets, creating a fascinating interplay of color, shape, and fluidity," she said in a statement. "As viewers, we must not only absorb the overwhelming splendor of each piece, but the artworks' presence confronts us with a contradictory combination of weight and lightness, both physical and metaphorical."

The artwork doesn't just transform discarded objects into works of art. The pieces themselves change over time. As the exhibition travels from gallery to gallery, the shapes of the pieces morph depending on the space of the host gallery. Anatsui encourages museum staffers to "sculpt" each piece as they install it in order to fit the space of each gallery, meaning that no two exhibition shows are ever the same.

"A human life is constantly in a state of change," said Anatsui in a statement. "I want my artwork to replicate that. I know there is an artist in each of us. And the idea of giving freedom to people to configure my works is to awaken the artist in them."

Attend the opening reception and a conversation with El Anatsui Thursday, April 10, at 7 p.m. at the Bass Museum of Art (2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach). Silvia Karman Cubiñà the director and chief curator of the Bass Museum of Art, will also be in attendance. Members and basspass owners can get in for free. Admission for non-members is $10. Complimentary valet parking will be available on 22nd St. between Collins and Park Avenues. Seating is limited; RSVP at artisttalk@bassmuseum.org.

The hours for the exhibition will be Wednesday through Sunday between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. and Friday between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m. General admission to the exhibition will be $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students with ID and free for members and children under six. Call 305-673-7530 or visit bassmuseum.org.

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