Critics’ Picks

View of “Crumbling Through Powdery Air,” 2015.

View of “Crumbling Through Powdery Air,” 2015.


Otobong Nkanga

Alte Brücke 2 / Maininsel
July 16–September 6, 2015

All that glitters is not gold: This much we know is true. Take vermiculite, a mineral from the mica family of silicates whose dull glint gives it the appearance of gleaming rabbit pelts. Its root trace back to the Latin verb micare, “to glitter,” but also to mica, “crumb.” This etymological slippage sets the terms for Otobong Nkanga’s exhibition “Crumbling Through Powdery Air,” which quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald in picking up from the artist’s 2014 project, In Pursuit of Bling, a shadow history of all things shiny.

Eschewing champagne lounges and VIP rooms for the great, yawning gaps in the deserts of Namibia, Nkanga’s pursuit took her to the legendary “Green Hill” of Tsumeb. Named for an anomalous mineral formation more than three stories tall and a startling shade of green, its riches have long been extracted, leaving only a nondescript open pit. As a monument to this loss, Nkanga covers the gallery floor with a layer of sand flecked with vermiculite and copper. On this foundation, she erects Solid Maneuvers, 2015, an archipelago of seven slab-like sculptures mounted on metal poles, like butterflies pinned down in a display case. Their surfaces resemble topographical maps, built up in stacked layers of mined metals, whose irregular contours carve elevations and depressions. The artist anoints them with piles of pink mineral salts, sand, tar, or mica-based cosmetic powder, as if trying to piece the extracted earth back together again. In other places, she allows these materials to artfully spill into the shimmering sand below, further confusing what is precious with what is waste.