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‘They Are Given a New Life’: Watch Ghanaian Artist El Anatsui Weave Bottle Caps Into His Monumental, Innovative Sculptures


Ghanaian artist El Anatsui creates monumental assemblage sculptures woven from colorful, shiny objects, creating tactile curtains that seem to breathe on their own. The works sell routinely for more than one million dollars each at auction, but their beginnings are humble.

The works may be made from pieces of wood, metal, ceramic, and—most often—bottle caps, but they are not rigid at all. In fact, Anatsui says “as a matter of principle” the works don’t come with installation instructions: “since they are so free and so loose and so flexible, it would be difficult to have a specific format for any one of them at any time.”

The artist now lives in Nigeria. He employs local studio assistants from his neighborhood to create an environment of camaraderie and community.

Studio assistants working on El Anatsui's massive assemblages. Photo: production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 6 episode, "Change." © Art21, Inc. 2012.

Studio assistants working on El Anatsui’s massive assemblages. Photo: production still from the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” Season 6 episode, “Change.” © Art21, Inc. 2012.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 filmed back in 2012 as part of the Art in the Twenty-First Century series, Anatsui explained why he uses bottle caps from discarded liquor bottles as such a primary medium. “How did liquor come into my culture and what does it mean?” he asks in the film, before describing the system of European traders who descended upon Africa, ultimately trading drinks for slaves who were brought to America to “grow more cotton and sugar cane to make more drink”—a continuous a cycle of trauma and colonization. 

Another reason the artist was drawn to the caps is because an accumulation of the colorful, shiny baubles appears to replicate the popular kente cloth fabric of Ghana, though he adds that this provided its own difficulty because viewers began to look at the works as textiles, an art form that is often derided and not appreciated as fine art.

The artist is adamant that his practice shouldn’t be considered a form of recycling, because he says it doesn’t pertain to the industrial process. Instead, the process is more akin to reincarnation. “I don’t, for instance, return the bottle caps back as mere bottle caps,” telling Art21. “They are given a new life and I make them not objects that do something utilitarian, but objects of contemplation.” 

Right now through November 14, El Anatsui’s work is on view at the Conciergerie in Paris in a site specific exhibition curated by  N’Goné Fall, general commissioner of the Africa2020 Season at the institution. Metal assemblages are installed surrounding the Hallway of Men-at-Arms in a winding route that alludes to the Seine, tracing a path through the medieval architecture of the city and its myriad cultural influences.

The rivers flow, they do change their course,” the artist tells Art21, “And I think my work has principally been about change and non-fixity of things, the fact that things are there and they have to grow old and change and do all kinds of things.” Laughing he insists, “It’s not because I’m old now!”

 

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series, below. “El Anatsui” is on view at the Conciergerie through November 14, 2021.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Midnight Publishing Group News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

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Watch Jacolby Satterwhite Navigate the Pressures of a Flourishing Art Career


Artist Jacolby Satterwhite’s first large-scale monographic exhibition is opening at Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Institute for Contemporary Art on August 14, marking a major milestone in the artist’s career.

But big shows like this aren’t all glory. Satterwhite now counts dozens of exhibitions to his name all over the world, including at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, the Gwangju Biennale, and Pioneer Works in Brooklyn (where he lives), and they take a ton of work.

In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series in 2014, the artist discussed what it was like having to make work for multiple shows at once without draining himself of creativity.

“Knowing when to stop, knowing when to say no, it’s just all these rules that aren’t written down for you,” Satterwhite said, “and you have to figure it out for to yourself through trial and error.”

When the video was filmed, the artist had recently transitioned from painting to working in performance and new technology, using animation and green screens to create immersive, futuristic videos. While working toward deadlines for Art Basel and Sundance New Frontier,  Satterwhite got another career-defining invitation, from the Whitney Biennial.

Jacolby Satterwhite, <i>Reifying Desire 6</i> (2014). © Jacolby Satterwhite.

Jacolby Satterwhite, Reifying Desire 6 (2014). © Jacolby Satterwhite.

To prepare, Satterwhite adopted a grueling work schedule that involved lots of Red Bull and peanuts, and sleeping on his studio floor. 

Speaking to Art21, Stuart Comer, who invited Satterwhite to participate in the Whitney show, said of the artist’s work: “It’s not just technology for technology’s sake. It’s really embedded in many layers of intellectual and personal discovery and inquiry.” 

Ultimately, Satterwhite managed to fulfill his simultaneous engagements, and continues to make work that is imbued with his innate DIY aesthetic, while pushing the boundaries of new technology.

I’m feeling, like, okay… more ambitious, more stuff to do, more shows to accomplish. I want to wrinkle, and get ugly, and get fat from peanut allergies, making my art.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below. Jacolby Satterwhite: Spirits Roaming on the Earth” is on view at the Miller ICA at Carnegie Mellon University from August 14 through December 5, 2021.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Midnight Publishing Group News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

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‘I’ve Always Been a City Girl With a Nature Brain’: Watch Sculptor Wangechi Mutu Weave Worlds Together in Her Sculpture


In 2019, Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu made history with the installation of her gleaming bronze sculptures flanking the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s facade, marking the first time since the building was completed in 1902 that freestanding artworks occupied the space.

The NewOnes, will free Us (2019), as the work was called, were caryatids—traditionally female sculptures meant to provide metaphorical and physical support. But in Mutu’s reimagining, instead of passively supporting they are liberated from their historic place of servitude, presented as individuals of strength and beauty, bringing in a perspective of feminist autonomy.

The artist’s two-decade career has been one of exploration and innovation. Mutu’s body of work ranges from fluid watercolor collages to sculpture, capturing her experience and respect for the natural world while infusing themes of the supernatural and mythological.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of its Extended Play series, Mutu is filmed in her Nairobi studio, where an array of works of varying media are in progress. In the video, the artist describes her childhood in Kenya, where she attended an all-girls Catholic school that exuded “all kinds of feminine energy.” Mutu muses about the contradictions in her education, since during the 1970s and ’80s, the students learned British and European history, but not the history or literature of Africa, since so much of the Kenyan population was Christianized.

Wangechi Mutu, <i>Mirror Faced I; Mirror Faced II; <i>and </i> <i>Mirror Faced III</i> all (2020). © Wangechi Mutu, courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery.

Wangechi Mutu, Mirror Faced I; Mirror Faced II; Mirror Faced III all (2020). © Wangechi Mutu, courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery.

That gap in her education sparked the artist’s interest in other contradictions within various cultures. One of the most obvious and disconcerting to the artist, was how “we worship the image of the woman but denigrate the actual human being of woman,” a fact which she says is “obviously something that has plagued us for a long time.” Other tensions she found through photography, which she describes as an invaluable tool for her work, often providing the backdrop for her dense collages and paintings.

Mutu began exploring how photography and colonization have grown in tandem. “The ‘other’ was photographed, and packaged, and consumed,” Mutu says. “Seeing yourself represented that way impacted you as a colonized ‘other,’ and how your image essentially became who you were.”

Right now at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, Mutu’s collages, paintings, and sculptural human-animal forms are installed within the classical architecture and Western art of the museum, challenging its dominant atmosphere. “When there is a singular voice or story,” Mutu explains, “it tends to be domineering, problematic, and often fictional.”

 

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. “Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?” is on view at the Legion of Honor Museum through November 7, 2021.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Midnight Publishing Group News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

 

 

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‘They’ve Always Been Inside My Practice’: Watch Artist David Altmejd Build Disembodied Heads From Leftover Materials


The Canadian-born sculptor David Altmejd is a master of world-building. His large-scale installations and intimately scaled sculptures are like Russian nesting dolls of stories and materials, with layers upon layers of ornamentation that each have distinct meaning.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 filmed in 2013, the artist described his obsession with crafting heads out of leftover materials from his larger works.

They’ve always been inside my practice. They’ve always been inside my landscape,” Altmejd told Art21. Using materials such as quartz, mirrors, foam, clay, leather, wood, hair, and steel, the heads he creates are microcosms of his larger works—”drawings,” as he describes them, that counterbalance the massive sculptures alongside them. 

At David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles, a show of new sculptures by Altmejd titled “The Enlightenment of the Witch” explores and how spirituality is expressed in material form. In the works on view, disembodied heads are set atop plinths throughout the gallery, becoming more fractured as the show progresses.

Many of the works have piercing eyes that uncannily stare out from lumpy clay faces, as if they’re possessed.

“I love those ideas of the inside, the outside, the infinite, the infinitely large, the infinitely small, the mind—everything is in that head,” he said

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. “David Altmejd: The Enlightenment of the Witch” it on view at David Kordansky Gallery through July 2, 2021. 

 This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Midnight Publishing Group News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

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Chinese Artist Ding Yi Finds Inspiration in Buddhist Philosophy and the Game of ‘Go’ — Watch Him Explain His Iridescent New Art Here


Since the mid-1980s, Chinese artist Ding Yi has crafted a distinctive visual language centered around crosses and grids. His often colorful abstractions consider the rise of Shanghai as a global metropolis and the radiance of the city’s neon lights. 

Right now, Timothy Taylor is presenting “Lightscapes,” a solo exhibition of Ding’s latest works featuring three paintings and six drawings. (The works are simultaneously presented in the Frieze Viewing Room.)

The paintings represent an important new development for Ding: In order to create them, the artist layered colors of paint and then cut intricate dot-like crevices into the wood with a fine blade. The resulting images give the impression of shifting, glistening lights in shades of vibrant vermilion, magenta, lime green, and acid yellow. 

Installation view "Ding Yi: Lightscapes" (2021). Courtesy of Timothy Taylor.

Installation view “Ding Yi: Lightscapes” (2021). Courtesy of Timothy Taylor.

In conjunction with the new exhibition, the artist sat with curator Alexandra Munroe for an interview. “There are systems of thought and perspective that can shake our idea of a monolithic culture, and Ding Yi’s work is critical to this conversation. It has an insight that is unique, a sublime space and an emotion beneath the abstraction,” Munroe notes.

The discussion between artist and curator is wide-ranging. They talk about the changing role of Chinese art in the global sphere, the thirty-five years he’s worked on “Appearances of Crosses,” and why his approach to painting is similar to the board game Go. 

Watch the interview between Ding and Munroe below.

“Ding Yi: Lightscapes” is on view at Timothy Taylor through June 12, 2021.

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