Process of installation, African Gallery, 4th flr Hamilton Bldg.

Process of installation, African Gallery, 4th flr Hamilton Bldg.

“When I Last Wrote to You about Africa” tells a brilliant story.

Walking through the fourth floor gallery at the Denver Art Museum with African artist, El Anatsui, is like taking a tour through the lives of those who live it on the ground. Using materials he could find at his fingertips – wood, metal, clay, bottle caps and their collars –Anatsui has created a body of work that is a shimmering testimony to the rebirth of life.

The exhibition does not follow chronology but sends you on a journey through more than 60 works from his prolific career.

“The exhibit is meant to move,” he says. “Everything here is made from interchangeable pieces can be arranged differently to fit the space and the eye of the exhibitor. Of course, art museums don’t want you to change your work,” he laughed.

When asked why he would give up control of an installation, he replied, “It brings out the creative in other people.”

The effect is uplifting. Large metal sculptural quilts are draped and crunched on gallery walls. A gleaming mountain range made out of tops from Peak Milk cans nestles in a corner. A room full of small, open boxes holds the mystery of all we compartmentalize. And then there’s the wood.



El Anatsui—one of contemporary art’s leading figures— began working with wood as a young artist in Ghana and his unique practice of transforming simple materials, often discarded or overlooked pieces such as driftwood, milk tins and bottle tops, into striking works of art that tell personal and universal stories. On my tour through the gallery with the artist he told one such story, as he shared the spiritual significance of a simple clay pot.

“Pots have meaning in my culture; each pot has a different purpose. There are cooking pots, storage pots, water pots.When a pot breaks its time is not over, for those pieces are used in the making of a new pot. We see life, not as a recycling process but as a continuation.”

“This retrospective delves into the work of one of today’s most extraordinary artists and offers a full view of his poignant and luminous works,” said Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the Denver Art Museum. “We’re focusing on his individual creativity and giving visitors an opportunity to see how he evolved throughout his career.”

The exhibition is on view in the level four galleries in the Hamilton Building September 9 – December 30, 2012.


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