Recycled material in art is not a new concept, nor is using those materials to make a statement about various social ills, but Jon Burris, [ArtSpace] at Untitled executive director, said that a new exhibit by Ghana artist El Anatsui is exceptional as much for its sheer size as the rather blunt statement its medium makes with thousands of liquor bottle screw caps found in Nigeria.
"We tell people that we will have three pieces of art in our next exhibit and they think that is unusual, but these are very large pieces," Burris said. "They are like tapestries you would see in churches, but made from metal "? kind of a modern take on tapestries."
Anatsui reinterprets traditional West African kente cloth tapestries by cutting out circles or squares from the plastic bottle caps and stringing them together with copper wire. Burris said the tapestries can stretch 12 to 20 feet long.
"The idea came when he was out walking to find materials for wood sculptures he was doing and came across a bag of hundreds of bottle caps," he explained. "He picked it up and put it in his studio. There it sat for a year before he figured out what he would do with them."
BOTTLE CAP STRIPS
Twenty assistants helped Anatsui create strips of the bottle caps and connected them to weave abstract imagery. Rather than hanging the tapestries loosely from the ceiling, the pieces are often displayed so that they bulge in various areas, giving the piece dimension.
Anatsui had been gaining recognition for years as a sculptor using recycled material, but his tapestries created a big splash at the Venice Biennale, an Italian art exhibition that gave him international prominence. Burris said that the exhibit is a coup for Untitled.
"It's very rare to see his work in some place as small as Untitled. Usually, you will only see it at the Metropolitan," he said. "The pieces were on exhibit in Kansas City at an art center we have a relationship with, and there was going to be a two-month period where it would be in storage. We contacted the artist personally and said that since it is so rare to have his work in the country, we asked whether it would be possible to get it."
Anatsui accepted the offer, and starting Friday, the gallery will showcase the pieces until Nov. 7, when they will be shipped back to the artist. Anatsui is a professor of sculpture at the University of Nigeria and isn't able to attend the 5 p.m. reception, but Burris said that there has still been a lot of buzz in the art community over the upcoming opening, and not just locally.
"This really is work that you have to see displayed. Photographs don't do them any justice," he said. "We have people calling in from as far as Santa Fe saying they are coming in to see this because they thought they would only be able to see it in New York. We are very lucky to be getting this."
El Anatsui opens at 5 p.m. Friday with a reception and displays through Nov. 7 at Untitled [ArtSpace], 1 N.E. Third.