THIS FALL, Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall will be graced with a new site-specific installation by renowned artist El Anatsui. The London museum announced this morning that the Nigerian-born, Ghana-based sculptor known for his dazzling tapestry-style installations is the next Hyundai Commission artist.
The annual presentation provides a unique opportunity for an artist to envision an ambitious project in a vast museum space that rises 115 feet high and is longer than an American football field. Kara Walker, Anicka Yi, and Olafur Eliasson have presented works in the space. Chilean artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña‘s installation is currently on view through April 16.
Anatsui is the first African artist selected for a commission in Turbine Hall. His exhibition debuts Oct. 10 and will be open until April 14, 2024.
EL ANATSUI, Detail of “In the World But Don’t Know the World? 2009 (aluminium and copper wire, 1000 x 560 cm). | © El Anatsui. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Kunstmuseum Bern Courtesy the Artist and October Gallery, London. Photo © Jonathan Greet
Anatsui’s most iconic works are beautiful, poetic treasures formed with discarded materials. He works with thousands of recycled and flattened liquor bottle caps, connecting them with copper wire to fabricate monumental draped works. Existing at the intersection of sculpture, textiles, abstraction, and assemblage, the works defy conventional mediums and take on new forms with each installation.
“El Anatsui is responsible for some of the most unique and unforgettable sculptures in recent times and we are delighted that he will tackle the Turbine Hall this autumn for the annual Hyundai Commission,” Tate Modern Director Frances Morris said in a statement. “Anatsui’s much-loved Ink Splash II 2012 in Tate’s collection enchants visitors wherever it’s shown, and we can’t wait to see how this inventive artist will approach a space like the Turbine Hall.”
“El Anatsui is responsible for some of the most unique and unforgettable sculptures in recent times and we are delighted that he will tackle the Turbine Hall this autumn for the annual Hyundai Commission.”
— Tate Modern Director Frances Morris
THE SON OF A MASTER WEAVER of Kente cloth, Anatsui (left) was born in Ghana in 1944 and went on to be a professor of sculpture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka for four decades. An internationally regarded contemporary sculptor and one of the most widely acclaimed artists in African history, Anatsui has been active for more than half a century.
Over the years, his practice has evolved from his early ceramics and experimentations with wood reliefs to his celebrated bottle cap sculptures. At their base, the assemblage works speak to the history of Africa and are also informed by themes such as the legacy of colonialism, consumption, waste, and the state of the environment. The artist has said his work is about medium and process and that it is critical that he use the materials around him.
“My work has tried to revolve around a history of the continent of Africa. These bottle tops have served as a link between my continent, Africa, and Europe. Drink was one of the prime objects that they brought,” Anatsui said in a recent video for the North Carolina Museum of Art. “When I use these drink tops, I want that people go close and read labels which reveal a lot of the sociology and history of the place.”
“My work has tried to revolve around a history of the continent of Africa. These bottle tops have served as a link between my continent, Africa, and Europe. Drink was one of the prime objects that they brought.” — Artist El Anatsui
Anatsui received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019) served as artistic director that year and would go on to organize “El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale,” the “most comprehensive and detailed presentation” of the artist to date, at Haus der Kunst in Munich in 2019.
SINCE 2000, TATE MODERN has invited highly regarded artists from around the world to take over Turbine Hall, including inaugural artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), Anish Kapoor, Richard Tuttle, and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. Year after year artists have transformed the vast space with thoughtful and inventive installations, creating unforgettable experiences with contemporary art.
The brainchild of Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas, “Empty Lot” (2015) was composed of countless planter boxes filled with soil from London parks and arranged in a geometric grid pattern that grew over the course of the installation into a weed-filled landscape. Cuban American Tania Bruguera used a series of interventions and participatory works to raise issues around migration. Among the more playful ideas, German artist Carsten Holler built a huge slide, while Danish collective Superflex installed three-person swings.
More recently, New York artist Kara Walker erected a towering four-tiered fountain that explored the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade and questioned the narratives of public memorials. New York artist Anicka Yi, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, conceived a new ecosystem of floating “aerobes,” machines that looked like a cross between space creatures and sea creatures, and each week infused the space with a new curated scent.
Early on, the commissions were sponsored by Unilever. Tate is currently partnering with Hyundai Motor Company through 2026. Anatsui’s project is the eighth Hyundai commission with Tate’s Osei Bonsu and Dina Akhmadeeva serving as curators. CT
IMAGE: Above left, Portrait of El Anatsui. | Photo © Aliona Adrianova, 2019. Courtesy October Gallery, London
FIND MORE about artist El Anatsui on his website
FIND MORE “Ink Splash II” (2012) by El Anatsui, a bottle cap work with prominent splashes of indigo blue and smaller areas golden yellow against a luminous silver ground, is currently on display at Tate Liverpool in “Journeys Through the Tate Collection: The Port and Migrations,” an ongoing collection exhibition
El Anatsui’s Hyundai Commission at Tate Modern will be accompanied by a new publication. Recently published, “El Anatsui: The Reinvention of Sculpture” co-authored by Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019) and Chika Okeke-Agulu, is an unparalleled critical account of the artist and his practice over the past half century, fully illustrated with images of the artist’s work over the past five decades. Also consider, “El Anatsui: Art and Life” (2021) by Susan M. Vogel. For children, “Bottle Tops: The Art of El Anatsu” explores that artist’s life and work.
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