European museums pool resources to acquire huge artwork

European museums

El Anatsui, ‘In the World But Don’t Know the World,’ 2009, aluminum and copper wire, 224in x 400in, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Kunstmuseum Bern. Photo by Peter Tijhuis

AMSTERDAM – The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Kunstmuseum Bern have joined forces to acquire a work by El Anatsui from the Sigg Collection, a Swiss private art collection.

El Anatsui from Ghana is Africa’s most prominent contemporary artist, known for large sculptures made from recycled bottle caps. The work will be shown alternately in Bern and Amsterdam.

The purchase was financed for the Stedelijk Museum by the Vereniging Rembrandt, the Mondriaan Fund, and the BankGiro Loterij, from Swiss side it was financed by Stiftung GegenwART, with special thanks to the Sigg Collection.

The artwork is titled In the World But Don’t Know the World from 2009. The monumental sculpture made of aluminum and copper wire measures 560 x 1,000 cm and was recently part of the exhibition “El Anatsui. Triumphant Scale” at Kunstmuseum Bern. At the moment, until Feb. 21, the work is the centerpiece of the exhibition “Small World Real World” at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

El Anatsui has been crafting works like this one from found screw caps from liquor bottles since 2001. The sculptures already overwhelm the viewer from afar with their monumental scale, and upon closer inspection exert a special fascination with their jewel-like details. Cutting, flattening, shaping, twisting, folding and assembling thousands of bottle caps exemplifies the diversity of the material and can be read as an allegory for interaction in human communities.
The works are always created through the cooperative labor of numerous helpers. Bottle caps are recycled waste material, while alcohol, which the bottles contained, was once used as a medium of exchange in the days of slavery. El Anatsui’s monumental works thus equally address Africa’s colonial history, the negative aspects of globalization and the consumer world, as well as environmental concerns.

“This is the first work by El Anatsui in a public collection in the Netherlands,” noted Rein Wolfs, director of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. “For us, this 125 year anniversary acquisition indicates the direction the Stedelijk wants to take in the near future. We are working on broadening the collection, including works of art from countries of origin other than those customary for the Stedelijk. El Anatsui’s work stands like no other for contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora. At the same time, this work offers a different context to the monumental works that mark the collection of the Stedelijk and has everything it takes to become a new public favorite.”

El Anatsui (b. 1944) is a native of Ghana who has lived and worked in Nigeria since 1975. He teaches at the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka and is one of the most important artists of the African continent. In 2015, he received the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale for his life’s work. El Anatsui’s works reveal his critical search for alternative models of art production. One of his ideas embraces the notion that art is capable of engaging with the complex trajectories of history, memory and time, and with how these forces shape human society. This approach goes hand-in-hand with Anatsui’s ongoing exploration on the impact of colonial and postcolonial global forces on African cultures, giving his work a profound conceptual cause.