The artwork in question is 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. From now until February 21, 2021, 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 countless 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.
Rein Wolfs, Director of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam: “We are happy and grateful for the collaboration with Kunstmuseum Bern and the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt, the Mondriaan Fund and the BankGiro Loterij for making this possible. This is the first work by El Anatsui in a public collection in the Netherlands. 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.”
Nina Zimmer, Director Kunstmuseum Bern – Zentrum Paul Klee: “This key work by El Anatsui is an important addition to our contemporary collection. Since the 1990s, the Kunstmuseum Bern has been focusing on global contemporary art, and with this acquisition, we are carrying on this tradition. The joint purchase of this piece together with the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and with the generous support of the Stiftung GegenwART, shows what is possible when we work together internationally in a truly cooperative spirit.”