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El Anatsui at the Clark (and everywhere else!)

Posted by Sebastian Smee  June 23, 2011 11:21 AM

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pic00911.jpgEl Anatsui, who was born in Ghana and lives in Nigeria, is the most celebrated African artist alive. Museums all over New England - not to mention the rest of the world - are falling over themselves to show his work.

Locally, the Davis Museum of Art at Wellesley has the most credibility on this score: it is hosting a full retrospective of Anatsui's work, due to close this weekend (see my G cover with interview here).

pic02483.jpgThe Museum of Fine Arts recently purchased one of his dramatic wall sculptures (loosely hanging structures made from the glittering aluminum wrappers from liquor bottles), and will display it when the Linde Family Wing for contemporary art opens in September.

The Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College also has one on display.

And now the Sterling and Francince Clark Art Institute in WIlliamstown has borrowed three of these marvelous works (two from the foundation of the thrusting LA collector and philanthropist Eli Broad, one from an anonymous private collection) and mounted them in two galleries of the Tadao Ando-designed Stone Hill Center up the hill from the main museum.

pic02963.jpgThey look stunning. Anatsui may be absurdly ubiquitous (he ticks all the right boxes for right-thinking institutions: African, beautiful work, gently political - i.e. anti-consumerist, anti-colonial). But these works disarm all skepticism. They're the best works by Anatsui I've seen since being introduced to his work at the Venice Biennale of 2007. 

The artist welcomes improvisation and creativity in the hanging of his works. One here, "Intermittent Signals," is 35 feet long and slumps disconcertingly toward the floor at one end as it extends to an adjacent wall. The effect is dramatic.

pic04536.jpgAnother, "Strips of Earth's Skin," evokes shreds of tattered cloth - and of course the degradation of land. A third, "Delta," is the more recent of the three (2010). With its criss-crossing stripes of colored foil that extend beyond the rectangular format; its mysterious, semi-transparent circular webs near the center; and its dramatic vertical division between gold and silver, it's also the most visually complex.

If you've not seen this artist's work before, this is a great place to start. If only the Clark would put the loud and intrusive video about the artist somewhere more discrete. Education be damned: these works deserve more respect.


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About the author

The Boston Globe Journalist Series: Sebastian Smee
Sebastian Smee is the Globe's art critic, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He joined the paper's staff from Sydney, where he served as the national art critic for The Australian. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SebastianSmee. Read Smee's full bio.

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