Critics’ Picks

El Anatsui, Womb of Time, 2014, aluminum and copper wire, 24 x 86 x 44".

El Anatsui, Womb of Time, 2014, aluminum and copper wire, 24 x 86 x 44".

Kinderhook

El Anatsui

The School - Jack Shainman Gallery
25 Broad Street
May 17–September 26, 2015

The spacious, light-drenched galleries of the School in Kinderhook, New York, provide an ideal setting for El Anatsui’s current retrospective surveying his prolific fifty-year-long career. One senses an increasing self-reflexivity in his latest output, which is perhaps most apparent in works such as Generation Mix, 2014, wherein the shimmering metal fragments used in his most celebrated series of the last decade are affixed to wooden assemblages that recall his “Old Cloth” series of the 1990s, examples of which are also on view.

Anatsui’s “Broken Pots” series, first shown in 1979 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, reflects on cultural fragmentation and resilience. Inspired in part by Nok terra-cotta sculpture, works such as Chambers of Memory, 1977, and Gbeze, 1979, invoke the chaos of colonization and affirmed the promise of independence for new African nations. Thirty-five years later, echoes of this series are legible in the artist’s metal constructions. One such sculpture appears as a giant suspended orb punctured with gaping holes, marking a departure from his flattened wall hangings. Titled Womb of Time, 2014, it also links the global unrest felt during the postwar era to that of our present day.

While only a small number of works are directly figurative, many of the artist’s most abstract sculptures are treated as bodies that may be wounded or healed. Stressed World, 2011, one of the largest works on view, appears worn and neglected, as if embodying the strain placed on our natural environment. Anatsui’s handling of found materials is both violent and conscientious, consistently evoking themes of disorder and reinvention while inviting an awareness of the consequences of ecological and cultural destruction.