EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)
EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)
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EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)

New Layout

EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)
New Layout
found aluminum bottlecaps and copper wire
88 5/8 x 119 3/8 x 5 7/8 in. (225 x 303 x 15 cm.)
Executed in 2009.
The artist
Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2010
New York, Jack Shainman Gallery, El Anatsui, February-March 2010.

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department

Lot Essay

Radiating beyond its own parameters, El Anatsui’s New Layout presents a luminous sheen of glowing silvers punctuated by bright reds and brilliant yellows woven together in an enchanting palimpsest of glittering chainmail. From the artist’s celebrated ‘cloth’ series, the radiating expanse of New Layout is composed of thousands of liquor bottle caps intricately folded and woven together by filaments of copper wire. Echoing the pliability of fabric, the captivating works in Anatsui’s cloth series can be adapted to each unique surface from which they hang—imbuing them with a lyrical sense of undulating movement. The opulent palette of Anatsui’s chosen materials coalesce with the billowing effect of his sculptures to evoke the aesthetic grandeur of color field painting, while the shimmering display of lights reflected off his metallic surface recalls the transcendent effect of Byzantine mosaics. 
Anatsui first came across bottle caps by chance in 1998 when he found a discarded heap of milk-tin lids in the bushes near his town. “Several things went through my mind when I found the bag of bottle tops in the bush,” the artist has explained. “I thought of the objects as links between my continent, Africa, and the rest of Europe. Objects such as these were introduced to Africa by Europeans when they came as traders. Alcohol was one of the commodities brought with them to exchange for goods in Africa. Eventually alcohol became one of the items used in the transatlantic slave trade. They made rum in the West Indies, took it to Liverpool, and then it made its way back to Africa. I thought that the bottle caps had a strong reference to the history of Africa… I kept the bottle tops in the studio for several months until the idea eventually came to me that by stitching them together I could get them to articulate some statement. When the process of stitching got underway, I discovered that the result resembled a real fabric cloth. Incidentally too, the colors of the caps seemed to replicate those for traditional kente cloths” (E. Anatsui quoted in, S.M. Vogel, El Anatsui: Art and Life, Munich, 2012, p. 53-54).  
Deeply rooted in his own personal and cultural history, Anatsui is drawn to materials that represent his native country, Ghana. The bottle caps advertising cheap African liquor from Romatex to Castello and First Lady Brandy simultaneously serve as the artist’s beautifully colored, metallic medium, as well as poignant reminders of  individual and collective histories of the African continent in its references to history, consumption, and globalization. Indeed, for Anatsui the interconnectedness that the bottle tops represented holds true on both a macro historical level, and a micro individual level. “When I saw the bottle tops, what struck me was that they are from bottles that have been used,” the artist has further explained, “and therefore human hands have touched them... People have really drunk from these bottles, and therefore human hands have left a charge on them” (E. Anatsui, quoted in L. Leffler James, 'Convergence: History, Materials, and the Human Hand - An Interview with El Anatsui', in Art Journal, vol. 67, no. 2, Summer 20008, p. 38).
Anatsui gathered hundreds of liquor-bottle tops and painstakingly flattened and pierced them in order to weave them together with copper wire. Creating his vast compositions on the floor through a labor-intensive technique conceived by the artist specifically for the execution of these works, Anatsui employs various motifs—twisting and flattening the bottle caps according to his carefully conceived composition. Of his process Anatsui has stated, “I get these things [bottle caps] and I intervene by cutting them and opening them up and bolting them together in order to create very huge sheets that are so big that they give you the freedom to play around with them. Initially these were purely sculpture, but as time went on I saw that there was a need for me to consider so many other elements, like the colors that show the brands of drinks—like the reds, the blacks, the yellows, and so forth. And I work more like a sculpture and a painter put together, because the concerns of the sculptor and painter are what I am grappling with as well” (E. Anatsui, quoted in 'El Anatsui in conversation with Chika Okeke-Agulu', El Anatsui, exh. cat., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts, 2011, p. 10)
Belonging to a generation of African artists who came of age in the 1960s when fundamental ideological upheaval was a successor to the political independence occurring throughout Africa, Anatsui's practice is intimately connected to the impact of globalization and consumerism on the West African cultural landscape. Yet with an attachment to the found object and its connection to the human hand, Anatsui's art speaks beyond Africa, to universal truths and connections. “You've touched it, and I've touched it. There is now a kind of bond between you and me,” Anatsui explains, “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” (E. Anatsui, quoted in L. Leffler James, op cit., p. 49).

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