El Anatsui - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, April 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Overview

    'I wanted to work with materials that people had put their hands on. 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 AnatsuiA wonderful example of El Anatsui's Plot a Plan series carried out in 2007, Plot a Plan IV belongs to a wider body of work that the artist has been devoted to since the late 1990s: wide, shimmering curtains made of metallic bottle caps, stringed together with copper wire. Overarching his visual and conceptual artistic intention, Anatsui's ongoing suite of wall-mounted installations began in 1999, after he had found a bag full of discarded seals from African liquor bottles. He then began working on impressive assemblages made of these same elements, crushing them into circles or cutting them into strips, finally stitching them together to form vast tapestries, ever-evolving in shape. Boasting myriad shiny lids — flattened, crumpled or otherwise manipulated — Plot a Plan IV glistens resplendently, and invites the viewer into a horizon of haptic abstraction.


    El Anatsui at his Nsukka studio on August 8, 2013. Images: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images.
    El Anatsui at his Nsukka studio on August 8, 2013. Image: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images. Courtesy of El Anatsui Studio.

    In the Spotlight


    Throughout his career, El Anatsui has been promoting the idea that art-making knows no borders. 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 to his more contemporary creations, then travelled to Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, the Kunstmuseum Bern and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, in 2020. In January 2021, Anatsui participated in the Metropolitan Museum's first fully virtual exhibition, The Met Unframed.


    El Anatsui's Plot a Plan, IV, 2007, aluminium (liquor bottle caps) and copper wire, hung at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for their first fully virtual exhibition, The Met Unframed. Imnage: Courtesy Susan Vogel. Courtesy of El Anatsui Studio. 

    From the outset of his career in Kumasi, Ghana, Anatsui had been interested in adinkra — motifs expressing the connection between the verbal and the visual in Akan culture. Though he was not particularly interested in the cloth on which these motifs were printed, he was profoundly vested with the symbolic meaning and history they contained. Struck by a remark he had heard in the United States: 'Cloth is to the African what monuments are to Westerners', Anatsui later quoted this observation in an interview with Atta Kwami, and added that cloths bear the capacity 'to commemorate events, issues, persons, and objectives outside of themselves is so immense and fluid it even rubs off on other practices'.1 In Plot a Plan IV, the sculpture's fabric-like constitution allows it freedom of movement and a multitude of possible forms and modulations. In emulating the malleability of fabric — the work could technically be placed on a wall, just as it could drape the floor or be rolled into a ball — Plot a Plan IV conveys the emotional possibilities enabled by cloth, specifically linked to ideas of commemoration and memorabilia.


    Wrapper (Adinkra), c. 1960, cotton and dye, Collection of the Lowe Art Museum, Miami. Image: Gift of Professor and Mrs. Robert R. Ferens / Bridgeman Images.
    Wrapper (Adinkra), c. 1960, cotton and dye, Collection of the Lowe Art Museum, Miami. Image: Gift of Professor and Mrs. Robert R. Ferens / Bridgeman Images.

    Playing with this idea of memory, cultural weavings and a collaborative approach — Anatsui's installations are put together by crews of young assistants working across Nigeria — Plot a Plan IV and its sister works are reminiscent of Alighiero Boetti's Mappa works, which, made by Afghani artisans from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s, weave the shape of the world in its most recognisable topographic form, surrounded by a frame of European letters and Persian calligraphy. Anatsui, much like Boetti before him, alludes to cross-continental connections through a multitude of artistic layers, overall conveying a poetic terrain which harmoniously melds form, content, and meaning. A wealth of symbolism that in Plot a Plan IV, shines most brightly, and literally, through the sculpture's myriad constitutive lids.


    Alighiero Boetti, Map of the World, 1989, embroidery on fabric, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.  Anatsui's Preferred Material
    Alighiero Boetti, Map of the World, 1989, embroidery on fabric, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.
    Anatsui's Preferred Material. © DACS 2021.

    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"'.2 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'.3 With its copious metaphorical associations, Plot a Plan IV is a symbolic treasure imparted with spectacular physicality, telling the story of contemporary consumers, and the tale of a people simultaneously.


    The Shape of a People

    'You've touched it, and I've touched it. There is now a kind of bond between you and me, and this is an idea which is very much related to religious practice, spiritual practice, in many parts of Africa and, I believe, in many cultures of the world.' —El Anatsui

     Collecting a wealth of symbolism, the liquor bottle caps atop Plot a Plan IV look at the history of Africa's colonialism whilst simultaneously casting a gaze forward, into a future of intermingling cultures. 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 spectacular example of this, Plot a Plan IV captures the crux of Anatsui's sculptural practice, engaging with complex flows of history, memory and time, and adroitly seizing the ways in which these forces shape human society.


    Julian Lucas' New Yorker Profile on El Anatsui


    Click below to read Julian Lucas' latest profile on El Anatsui, published 11 January 2021.




    1 El Anatsui, quoted in 'El Anatsui: Material Wonder', Hali, 15 February 2019, online. 

    2 El Anatsui, quoted in Ming Lin, 'Material World: Interview with El Anatsui', Art Asia Pacific, 6 January 
    2014, online. 
    3 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. 

    • Provenance

      Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008

    • Literature

      Susan Mullin Vogel, El Anatsui: Art and Life, Munich, 2012, fig. 76, no. 81, pp. 85, 88, 175 (detail illustrated, p. 84; illustrated, p. 88)

Property of an Important New York Estate


Plot a Plan IV

aluminium and copper wire
210.8 x 252.7 cm (83 x 99 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2007.

Full Cataloguing

£650,000 - 850,000 

Sold for £942,100

Contact Specialist


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+ 44 20 7318 4060


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+ 44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021