By Jennifer Stavrianou*
After recently returning from a trip to New York City, where I got to meet the original art dealer for EL Anatsui’s artwork, I learned that the Akron Art Museum was working on an exhibition of his work. Aggressively, I began hunting for the staff member who could help me become a part of this grand event. My search lead me to Interim Chief Curator Ellen Rudolph who explained that this particular show did not follow the museum’s typical installation pattern because it was being produced in just 3 weeks.
The first day that I encountered the curatorial team wrangling this installation project was a day in early June. They were installing Peak, a sculpture by the artist that consisted of 75,000 Milk can lids. They mulled over the sculpture, making sure that each mound, mold and divot were to their liking. After they were satisfied with mounds that they had created, the team explained to me that the artworks were shipped to them in large wooden crates, from New York, where they had been awaiting exhibition from the Jack Shaiman gallery. Arnold Tunstall showed me how they arrived in sheets with plastic in between them, flat like a tapestry, WITH NO INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS! When I learned this, my mind began turning….an excellent shipping solution, but I wondered how efficient this solution was for the curators who are required to install the work. After a few days of watching the installation I’m not sure that was ever a goal of the artist. To inspire the people who install his work was definitely the goal, and a successful one too.
Each time a piece was installed it challenged the curatorial team to create, by sculpting brilliant turns and sways in the metal tapestries, finding unique ways to present each piece so that the show did not become stagnant and repetitious. At one point Ellen and Arnie (the collection’s manger at the museum) both exclaimed, “I can’t believe this is so much fun”!
One of my favorite pieces to watch the installation of was Amemo. It has an ambiguous shape, created by the pinwheel pieces that make up this 18 foot tall sculpture. It lies on the wall as if it were a winter cable knit sweater piled upon the floor they way my daughter’s end up after she comes home from a fall football game. At times there were 5 people pushing and scrunching the tapestry to create its sense of relaxation, visible in its dramatic sagging undulation. Here, over the course of two weeks, I watched the completion of El Anatsui’s vision take us all to a place of awakening. We were able to bring alive the artist in all of us….what a gift!
Check back on Friday for Part 2 of Jennifer’s Anatsui experience!
*Jennifer Stavrianou is an up and coming art historian, specializing in contemporary African art. She has traveled nationally and internationally to: New York, Washington DC, London, Paris, Chicago and San Francisco to study contemporary artists. Her art historical writing focuses on the identity issues that multicultural artists face in today’s artistic world. She is currently writing her master’s thesis for Kent State University, focusing on contemporary artist EL Anatsui. Recently, she was awarded an internship with the Akron Art Museum to help the curatorial team with Gravity and Grace: The Monumental Works of El Anatsui.