El Anatsui - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    El Anatsui, 'Affirmation', Lot 7

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Hong Kong
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Hong Kong, Axel Vervoordt Gallery, El Anatsui - Theory of Se, 13 May - 12 August 2014

  • Literature

    Ming Lin, 'Material World: Interview with El Anatsui', Art Asia Pacific, 6 June 2014, online (illustrated)

  • 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

    Weaving myriad aluminium bottle caps into an immense shimmering curtain, Affirmation, 2014, is a wonderful example of El Anatsui’s wall-mounted installations. The sculpture belongs to an ongoing suite of installations that the artist commenced in 1999, conceptualised after he had found a bag full of metal seals from African liquor bottles. Since then, Anatsui continually worked on wall assemblages made of bottle caps, crushing the found elements into circles or cutting them into strips, subsequently sewing the parts together to form vast tapestries, ever-evolving in shape. As part of the artist’s Theory of Se series, devised in 2014, Affirmation touches on numerous references pertaining to Anatsui’s cultural background. It namely delves into the notion of ‘Se’, which signifies fate, fortune, or destiny in the Ewe language. ‘Se’ overarches the artistic intention with which Anatsui created the present work and its counterparts; within this theme, the artist explored three states of mind: affirmation, intimation, and revelation. Yet beyond its symbolic meaning, Affirmation furthermore explores the idea of cultural and temporal interweavings through a spectacular formal rendition, bringing together the tradition of handcraft and discarded elements from capitalist activity. Boasting innumerable shiny lids – flattened, crumpled or otherwise manipulated – the present garland-like sculpture glistens, as its title suggests, affirmatively, and invites the viewer into a horizon of haptic abstraction.

    One of the most prominent African artists working today, El Anatsui has, throughout his oeuvre, been promoting the idea that art-making knows no borders, and can happen outside of the world’s metropolitan cultural centres. Currently the recipient of significant critical and curatorial attention, the artist was selected to represent the Ghanaian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 2019, and was recently the subject of an important survey – the most ambitious to date, and the first-ever in Europe – curated by the late Okwui Enwezor at Haus der Kunst, Munich. The exhibition, tracing Anatsui’s artistic practice from the outset of his career in the 1970s to his more contemporary creations, is currently taking place at the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, and will travel to the Kunstmuseum Bern and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, in 2020.

    A voluminous, colourful installation usually hung on the wall, oscillating between flatness and undulation, Affirmation is a resplendent example of Anatsui’s fresh and unique sculptural language. Utterly flexible, it lives in a state of constant reinvention, changing with the specificities of each new installation. The form’s supple and free-flowing nature is reflective of the openness and fluidity envisioned by Anatsui in the conception of his work. The same way the artist’s final sculpture becomes a product in flux, the work’s initial creation process was permanently retro-reflective, taking into account the myriad stories that defined the countless caps before they were united into a single cohesive entity. ‘I wanted to work with materials that had been used, that people had put their hands on’, Anatsui explained. ‘After they have interacted with humans, materials have something else to offer. When working with materials that have such history, the process has some kind of connective energy: the energy of all the people who have interacted with them’ (El Anatsui, quoted in Ming Lin, ‘Material World: Interview with El Anatsui’, Art Asia Pacific, 6 January 2014, online).

    Highly attentive to the materials he uses, as well as the technique with which he binds them together, Anatsui said, ‘My father wove and many of my brothers wove. But eventually what got me into textiles was thinking about “what textiles mean”’ (El Anatsui, quoted in Ming Lin, ‘Material World: Interview with El Anatsui’, Art Asia Pacific, 6 January 2014, online). It is in reference to the specific use of bottle caps that the artist elucidated the ‘meaning’ of his preferred material, the bottle cap: ‘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 its copious metaphorical associations, Affirmation is a symbolic treasure imparted with spectacular physicality, telling the story of contemporary consumers, and the history of a people simultaneously.

    Collecting a wealth of symbolism, the liquor bottle caps atop Affirmation look at the history of Africa’s colonialism whilst simultaneously casting a gaze forward, into a future of intermingling cultures. The notion of ‘sankofa’ – ‘return and get it’ in the Twi language – in this perspective, is of paramount importance when looking at the present work. It reminds the viewer that there is always in the past a link to the future. In transforming his hypercontemporary latticework into a topographic map of sorts, Anatsui incorporates seminal cultural, historical and philosophical elements of his origins, and suggests an organic, fluid formation of contemporary culture, people and souls. In doing so, he creates a language that transcends temporal barriers, able to speak to a global audience. A stunning example of this, Affirmation captures the crux of Anatsui’s unique sculptural practice that engages with complex flows of history, memory and time, and adroitly seizes the way in which these forces shape human society.

A Vision in Red: Property from a Private Swiss Collection

Ο ◆7


signed and dated 'EL 14 EL 2014 EL 14' lower right
aluminium bottle caps and copper wire
310 x 341 cm (122 x 134 1/4 in.)
Executed in 2014.

£700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for £915,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
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Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020