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  • Rainey Knudson

Rice Gallery: El Anatsui (350 words)

The Nigerian artist El Anatsui has a relatively long history in Houston. His first site-specific work in the United States, Wrinkle of the Earth 2, was commissioned in 2007 for the ConocoPhillips collection by Kinzelman Art Consulting. More recently, Houston got a massive new Anatsui piece at the MFAH.

Titled Visitation, the MFAH piece is a huge, spectacular wall hanging that hugs the curved walls and orifices of the lower atrium in the Steven Holl-designed Kinder building. It has echoes of early Mark Bradford paintings in its areas of map-like grids—or maybe early Mark Bradfords have echoes of El Anatsui.

Anatsui has almost always worked with simple and overlooked materials—“whatever the environment throws up,” in his words—including the discarded bag of metal liquor bottle tops he found one day in the early aughts while driving in the countryside of southern Nigeria. He began to experiment with the metal bands, piecing them together to create what critic Michael Kimmelman called "great chain-mail tapestries." In 2007, Rice Gallery director Kim Davenport saw Anatsui's now-legendary installation at the Palazzo Fortuny at the Venice Biennale, where he draped the building's façade with a torn, golden sheet of metal. She invited him to create a new installation at Rice.

In 2010, Rice Gallery presented Gli (Wall), Anatsui's first work to use the metal rings around liquor bottles. The resulting mesh-like hangings were delicate, a departure from his previous, more bravura metal fabrics, as was the fact that they were installed diagonally into the room rather than around its perimeter. Anatusi had recently visited Jerusalem and Berlin, and walls were on his mind at the time. He wrote of Gli:

I think that walls are human constructs that are meant to block views, but they block only the view of the eye, the retinal view, not the imaginative view. When the eye scans a certain barrier, the imagination tends to go beyond that barrier. Walls reveal more things than they hide.

(Anatsui is included in One Thing Well, a forthcoming book about Rice Gallery's program of site-specific installation art, published fall 2021.)

Rice Gallery photos © Nash Baker. Used with permission.


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