El Anatsui - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “My chosen media are sourced from my immediate environment; they have been put to intense human use. They are thought to have lost value. They are ignored, discarded or thrown away…To me, their provenance imbues or charges them with history and content, which I seek to explore in order to highlight certain conditions of mankind's existence, as well as his relationship with himself and the environment. I therefore try to bring these objects back, to present them again in ways which seem to make them confront their former lives and the lives of those who have used them." –El Anatsui

    Alter Ego, 2014 is a powerful piece by internationally acclaimed artist El Anatsui. Working with a wide range of materials that include wood, ceramics, stone, and metal, Anatsui is best known for his works composed of aluminum and copper such as this mesmerizing example. He creates these visually and conceptually compelling pieces with liquor bottle caps that have been flattened, crumpled, or otherwise manipulated, then pierced and attached together with copper wire, creating works with a wide range of material and symbolic associations. Measuring over 9 by 11 feet, the immense Alter Ego is both heavily weighted and flexible, strong and supple – suggesting both textiles and armor or scales. Comprised primarily of luminous aluminum bottle caps, Anatsui interrupted the integrity of its surface with jagged holes and linear rips, some of which he partially filled in with bright patterns also assembled from the caps of liquor bottles.

    Born in Ghana, Anatsui moved in 1975 to teach at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and has worked there ever since. In 2015, his accomplishments were recognized with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale. According to the late Biennale curator Okwui Enwezor, “El Anatsui is perhaps the most significant living African artist working on the continent today...The Golden Lion Award acknowledges not just his recent successes internationally, but also his artistic influence amongst two generations of artists working in West Africa” (Okwui Enwezor, “El Anatsui – Golden Lion”, 56th Venice Biennale, Universes in Universe, May 9, 2015, online). The artist’s achievements are currently being celebrated in his largest exhibition to date, El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale which was curated by Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu at Haus der Kunst, Munich.

    Dominated by the metallic sheen of aluminum, Alter Ego is punctuated by sections of brightly colored caps, some of which feature repetitions of their manufacturers’ logos. Assembled from bottle tops used to cap liquor made in West Africa, Anatsui’s work calls forth associations with social issues, a globalized economy, and the history of Africa in relation to the rest of world. As the artist explained: “When I first found the bag of bottle tops, I thought of the objects as links between Africa and Europe. European traders introduced the bottle tops, and alcohol was used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Europeans made rum in the West Indies, took it to Liverpool, and then sent it back to Africa. For me, the bottle caps have a strong reference to the history of Africa” (El Anatsui, quoted in Erika Gee, El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa, exh. cat., Museum of African Art, New York, 2010, pp. 33-34). With their copious metaphorical associations and Anatsui’s continual expansion of their compositional possibilities, these works continue to sustain the artist’s attention.

    Flexible, usually hung on the wall, and assembled in a way that suggests weaving, this body of works are frequently compared to textiles, particularly to the brilliantly patterned kente cloth of his native Ghana. In Alter Ego, Anatsui extended an aspect of the work’s materiality, creating irregular holes and rips that interrupt the integrity of its surface and reveal the wall behind it. Bounded by thin strips of black metal that emphasize their contours, these holes suggest textile or another material that has been burnt, torn, or worn out. These ruptures in the work’s surface are related to those found in his monumental sculptures Fresh and Fading Memories, 2007 and Broken Bridge II, 2012, in which Anatsui incorporated breaks in the works’ surface. If the holes and rips in Alter Ego convey a metaphor of breaking down form, however, Anatsui has also built them back up, partially filling these gaps and rips with colorful patterns comprised of metal bottle caps, and suggesting a process of mending, reconstruction, or replacement with a new material.

Property of a Private European Collector


Alter Ego

aluminum bottle caps and copper wire
110 x 133 in. (279.4 x 337.8 cm.)
Executed in 2014.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $860,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue