Imitation, the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Perry Hurt, associate conservator at the NCMA, has been intimately involved in the installation and display, and now the ongoing maintenance, of El Anatsui’s Lines That Link Humanity. Perry sums up the experience of working with this wall sculpture and also taps the experience of conservators at other museums in an article for PACCIN (Preparation, Art Handling, and Collections Care Information Network).

As part of his study of Anatsui’s work, Perry created a small model of a metal wall sculpture using similar materials (metal wine bottle caps and 24-gauge wire). He cut and flattened the caps into strips about 2 inches long by ¾ inch wide, then poked holes in the strips and joined them with the copper wire.

This not only gave him insight into the artist’s processes but also provides a useful educational tool that can be handled by the public (unlike Anatsui’s work or any other art in the Museum). Examining Perry’s creation, one can experience firsthand the skill and ingenuity behind the construction—as well as its fragility.

The piece has sharp edges that can’t be removed or filed down, as the metal bottle caps are too thin. Perry has found that sharp edges are part of the handling experience of a real El Anatsui work, too; gloves can be shredded, clothing gets snagged, and the wall sculpture can snag on itself when being moved.

Each section of the finished model fits into a 1-gallon plastic zipper bag to protect the “viewer” from the sharp edges and to permit handling of the work in educational settings.

The exhibition El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa is on view in East Building through July 29; the Museum’s own El Anatsui work, Lines That Link Humanity, is part of the permanent collection in West Building. For more on Perry’s work with El Anatsui, check out the interview on nc artblog (Part I and Part II).

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