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News — 22 Dec 2020

Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Kunstmuseum Bern jointly acquire monumental work by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui. Acquisition made possible by four cultural funds.

El Anatsui, In the World But Don’t Know the World, 2009, aluminum and copper wire, 560 x 1,000 cm, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Kunstmuseum Bern. Acquired with support of the Vereniging Rembrandt (thanks in part to its Titus Fonds, its Themafonds Naoorlogse en Hedendaagse Kunst and its Coleminks Fonds), Mondriaan Fund, BankGiro Loterij and the Stiftung GegenwART, with special thanks to the SIGG COLLECTION @ El Anatsui. Photo Peter Tijhuis

Rising prices on the art market make it increasingly difficult for public art institutions to acquire new works by celebrated artists. Now 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 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. At the moment, until 21 February 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 labour 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 globalisation 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.”

About the artist

El Anatsui (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.

Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

The Stedelijk Museum, opened in 1895, is the largest museum for modern and contemporary art and design in the Netherlands, and holds an internationally renowned collection of 100.000 works, from 1870 to the present day. The collection encompasses clusters of work by Kazimir Malevich and Russian avant-garde, Bauhaus, De Stijl, German Expressionism and American Abstract Expressionism, as well as in depth collected oeuvres of artists like Bruce Nauman, Ettore Sottsass and Rineke Dijkstra. The Stedelijk is currently transforming into an engaged, multi-vocal, more inclusive art institution.

Kunstmuseum Bern

The Kunstmuseum Bern is one of the oldest art museums in Switzerland. At the present time, the collection comprises over 4,000 paintings and sculptures as well as some 45,000 drawings, prints, photographs, videos and films. As a result the museum has in its care not only one of the leading and most diverse collections in Switzerland but also enjoys international standing. Works by Ferdinand Hodler, Paul Klee, Albert Anker, Pablo Picasso, Franz Gertsch, Vincent van Gogh, Meret Oppenheim and many other artists have made the Kunstmuseum Bern an institution of international renown. Additionally, the Kunstmuseum Bern inherited the legacy of Cornelius Gurlitt in 2014. In response to the controversial history of this outstanding and meanwhile world-famous collection, the Kunstmuseum Bern has established the first provenance research department in Switzerland. The Kunstmuseum Bern not only presents its permanent collection but likewise mounts thematic and comprehensive solo exhibitions.

In The World But Don’t Know the World by El Anatsui is a joint acquisition by Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Kunstmuseum Bern. Acquired with support of the Vereniging Rembrandt (thanks in part to its Titus Fonds, its Themafonds Naoorlogse en Hedendaagse kunst and its Coleminks Fonds), the Mondriaan Fund, the BankGiro Loterij and Stiftung GegenwART, with special thanks to the SIGG COLLECTION.