At Jack Shainman’s Upstate Space, a Venice Golden Lion Winner Has Room to Spread Out

The New York gallerist Jack Shainman loves a fine spectacle, especially when it surrounds one of his artists. This Sunday, El Anatsui’s retrospective show debuted at Shainman’s massive upstate space, The School, where a crowd of more than 1,000 flocked to take in the Ghanaian-born sculptor’s large-scale metal works, along with early painting and pottery projects. Outside, tents offered shade from the afternoon sun and 80-degree weather, as visitors lingered over snacks from local Hudson Valley food trucks stationed on the property. For the full post:

“El Anatsui: Five Decades” is a comprehensive assemblage of more than 40 pieces by the award-winning artist, from the 1970s through present day, all of which were installed by Shainman himself. “He really gave me carte blanche. He believes in other people putting their energy into the work,” said Shainman, who also owns two gallery spaces in Chelsea. “The fact that it can be different every time — he encourages that,” he added, referring primarily to Anatsui’s more recent collection of imposing hanging sculptures, which are mutable in form and presentation. Constructed from small pieces of aluminum woven together with copper wires, the works defy their material, taking on a tapestry-like quality. “I always wanted a space with ceilings high enough for an El Anatsui piece,” Shainman said of The School, a converted 1929 Federal Revival building that was once indeed a middle and elementary school for residents in the town of Kinderhook. During renovation of the 30,000 square-foot structure, the basement auditorium was excavated and renovated to include staggering 24-foot-tall ceilings. Currently, Anatsui’s 2011 sculpture “Stressed World” (approximately 15 feet tall) hangs on the far wall.

The show’s opening also marks the first-year anniversary of The School’s debut. To match last year’s grand fête, which included an outdoors dance performance by dancers costumed in artist Nick Cave’s hallmark Soundsuits, Shainman enlisted the soulful singer and musician Imani Uzuri to take the stage. All the more reason to celebrate: Anatsui, now 71 years old, was recently awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at this year’s Venice Biennale. “We could not have asked for a more perfect coincidence,” Shainman said.

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