On a gray day last year, the Ghanaian-born artist El Anatsui visited Pittsburgh, where he was struck by Richard Serra’s 40-foot-tall, COR-TEN steel sculpture installed in front of the Carnegie Museum of Art. It seemed to blend into the nearly 50-year-old building behind it, inspiring the artist to try to achieve a similar effect with his new installation for the museum’s exterior, commissioned as part of the 57th edition of the Carnegie International.
El Anatsui now plans to drape the building in one of his signature sculptures composed of hundreds of thousands of discarded liquor bottle tops, all strung together with copper wire. The flowing metallic tapestry will cover the entirety of the museum’s 160-foot-long façade and continue onto the front lawn. There, the bottle tops will connect to a series of printing plates, sourced from a nearby Pittsburgh press. The plates, in turn, will link up to a series of reflective metal sculptures fabricated by a local artist, which will surround the Serra sculpture, (1985).
The museum announced Anatsui’s work, along with three other outdoor projects that will be included in the upcoming exhibition, today. All four projects, like many of those previously announced, were inspired by the structure of the museum itself.
“I guess you can’t come to the Carnegie Museum and not use the building itself as your vessel and material and make it part of the exhibition,” Ingrid Schaffner, the show’s ambitious curator, tells artnet News.
Though Schaffner didn’t expressly encourage the 32 artists and collectives in the exhibition to consider the building, the surrounding city, or the history of the Carnegie International—the oldest survey of contemporary art in North America—many of them have done so anyway.
Another work on the museum’s exterior will be a project by Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan, who was similarly inspired by a “feature of the museum,” Schaffner says. But she won’t tell us just what that feature is until the work is unveiled at the opening of the exhibition itself on October 13. “The gift of the surprise is part of the work,” she says. But she did give one little hint: “Prepare to be illuminated.”
Inside the main entrance, the nomadic Kenyan photographer Mimi Cherono Ng’ok will install a billboard-sized diptych that’s inspired, in part, by the late artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. A third image by Ng’ok will appear on the backside of the museum map handed out to guests. An idea that connects to her interest in peripatetic photography, or, as she puts it, “emotional cartography”—the circulation of images and their ability to document place.
Finally, a sound work by New York-based artist Park McArthur will greet visitors entering the museum. McArthur researched the stones that make up the building itself and traced their origin back to the Larvik quarry in Norway. She then commissioned an Oslo-based engineer to travel to the quarry and make record audio recordings of the stones being extracted. It’s a way of “mining the materiality of the museum,” Shaffner says.
“For me it’s less about Pittsburgh, per se, than it is about context,” Schaffner says. “Because the International has such a pronounced character, and because of the museum’s reputation, because of the city’s rich history, I see why artists are drawn to the setting itself as material.”