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Now that the razzle dazzle of Oscar night has mercifully passed, and our tuxedos and one-strap designer gowns are back in the closet, let's put on overalls and roll up our sleeves: it's time for a reality check...at least reality the way I see it.

at090224a.jpg The most celebrated contemporary African artist, El Anatsui, is back in the news. Last week the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA unveiled an exhibition of recent acquisitions of contemporary African art, including two spectacular tapestry-like collages by this Nigerian artist. After a solid forty-year career, he became an ‘overnight sensation' when his metal wall hangings turned out to be the most talked-about works of art at the last Venice Biennale. Ever since, museums, critics, and the public seemingly cannot get enough of him. Major museums are buying his art, while collectors are told that there is a two-year waiting list to acquire his works, so considering all that, the acquisition of these two works by the Fowler Museum is a major victory. The first piece was presciently acquired by this university museum before El Anatsui's reputation and prices skyrocketed; the second piece was purchased jointly with LACMA, where until recently it could be seen at the entrance to the Ahmanson pavilion. Now, it's installed to even better effect at the Fowler, and you owe yourself the pleasure of seeing it there. And last but not least, check out the article about El Anatsui and his art in last Sunday's New York Times Style Magazine.

at090224b.jpg As I made my gallery rounds last week, the subject of the miraculous transformation of humble materials into inspiring works of art kept coming up. Los Angeles artist Mineo Mizuno, in the exhibition of his new works at Samuel Freeman Gallery in Bergamot Station, returns to familiar territory with his large ceramic spherical sculptures, but adds a new twist. By planting moss onto their surfaces, the artist treats them as living sculptures, whose ‘skin' keeps growing and changing color – from light green to rich brown.

at090224c.jpg If you are lucky, you can catch a special ‘performance' of sorts: high above the sculptures hovers a thin pipe twisted into an elegant metal pretzel. Every hour, for only twenty seconds, this pipe is activated, sending down a cloud of mist to feed the moss. When I brought a group of collectors to see the show, the conversation came to a halt the very moment this poetic performance took place.

at090224e.jpg The nearby Track 16 Gallery is hosting a traveling exhibition that after London, Chicago, and New York stints has come to LA. Thousands of women around the world are engaged in the continuous growth of this handmade Crochet Coral Reef, irrational and irresistible in the exuberance of its forms and colors. The simple act of crocheting is transformed here into an artistic and political message of surprising power, bringing forth the issue of the ecological disaster looming over the famous Great Barrier Reef along the coast of Australia. Because of global warming and pollutants, this gigantic wonder of nature is rapidly disintegrating, while its artistic cousin, crocheted out of wool and shown in museums and galleries, continues to grow, raising awareness of this crisis. Usually I am rather skeptical of campaigns raised by artists in service of worthy causes, but in this case, the important message is delivered in a visually innovative and highly appealing form. Try to see it for yourself before the exhibition closes this coming Saturday.

Transformations: Recent Contemporary African Acquisitions
On view at the Fowler Museum through June 14

Mineo Mizuno: Coexistence On view at Samuel Freeman
(formerly Patricia Faure Gallery) through March 21

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef by the Institute for Figuring and Companions
On view at Track 16 Gallery through February 28


Banner image: Artist El Anatsui (in front of a work in progress at his studio in Nsukka, Nigeria) flattens bottle caps to create glistening sculptures that resemble fabric. Photo: Jodi Bieber

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