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By Mitchell Kahan, Akron Art Museum

The artist El Anatsui, (pronounced Ah-not-schwee) was born in Ghana and taught art at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka for 35 years. But in the past decade his impact and reputation have traveled far beyond those two countries. His large-scale metallic tapestries have become some of the most beloved and best recognized works of art by any living artist.

Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui is on view at Akron Art Museum through October 7. Funded generously by Knight Foundation, this is the largest exhibition ever organized by the museum.  Anatsui’s metal tapestries and sculpture occupy not only the museum’s special exhibition galleries but spill into other spaces, allowing his work to be viewed in relation to the museum’s collection of major artists from throughout the world.

El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944). Earth’s Skin, 2009. Aluminum and copper wire, 177 x 394 in. (449.6 x 1000.8 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo by Joe Levack, Courtesy of the Akron Art Museum

The variety of form, color and expression that Anatsui draws from discarded materials is no less than a visual feast. His large-scale metal wall pieces become even more remarkable when one realizes they are made from the discarded metal caps that wrap around the tops of liquor bottles. Conceptually thought-provoking and startlingly innovative in the use of materials, Anatsui’s work has an intense visual and emotional impact. He explores the relationship between global modernism and African traditions, consumption and waste, painting and sculpture, and permanence and change.

The exhibition also includes wooden wall reliefs and a small selection of drawings. Only one work in the exhibition has previously been exhibited in the United States. After closing in Akron on October 7, the exhibition will travel nationally, with its first stop in 2013 at The Brooklyn Museum.

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