One of the first rooms I entered at the de Young contained only two pieces of art. It wasn’t a small room, even by museum standards. The two works were very different, and yet, the room felt complete. I lingered for a long time, as did a young man with a toddler. (It’s always a good sign when children are engaged in the art on display. For an interesting testimonial about children and art viewing, see Rumaan Alam’s short New Yorker article here. Thanks for drawing it to my attention, HM.)
At one end of the rectangular room was El Anatsui’s Hovor II. I have written about El Anatsui in a previous posting, Gravity and Grace. (He would definitely be on my list of “Favourite Contemporary Artists” ….. If I had such a list.) He’s Nigerian, and creates contemporary art that references the history and struggles of many Africans.
The work is stunning in size, texture, material composition and meaning. Take a closer look…..
Yes, the shimmering tapestry is created from recycled packaging-often the foils from liquor bottles. The de Young Museum writes that the work is a …..comment on a global economy fueled by massive commercial consumption. However, these recycled materials also convey the ability of African traditions to adapt and evolve over time.
Facing El Anatsui’s tapestry, and filling the other end of the room, was Anti-Mass, by the British artist Cornelia Parker.
Cornelia Parker’s work is also composed of recycled material; Anti-Mass is constructed from the debris of an African American Baptist church in Alabama, which was destroyed by arson. It is one of two related installations she created. The sister piece, Mass (Phoenix Art Museum) uses the charred remains of a Texas Baptist church (with a white congregation) that was destroyed by lightning. I like this comment from the de Young Museum…..Her resurrected church is a monument to the positive powers of creativity and love to triumph over the negative forces of destruction and hatred.
I could have started and stopped my art viewing for the day in this one room. Experiencing both of these works was very fulfilling: visually gorgeous, conceptually rich and ideologically challenging.