EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)
EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)
EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)
1 More
EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)
4 More
EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)


EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)
signed twice and dated 'EL 2012 EL' (lower right)
found aluminum bottle caps and copper wire
installation dimensions variable
107 x 98 x 8 3/8 in. (271.8 x 248.9 x 21.3 cm.)
Executed in 2012.
Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Antwerp
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2013
Antwerp, Axel Vervoordt Gallery, El Anatsui, Stitch in Time, May-June 2012.

Brought to you by

Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

El Anatsui’s shimmering sculpture Prophet is an object of uncommon beauty that exemplifies the artist’s mesmeric use of materials. It transforms itself from the everyday—found bottle caps and lengths of copper wire—into a transcendent object that represents the interconnectedness of all things. It is both ethereal and undeniably physical, like Jackson Pollock’s metallic drips, dazzling the viewer with its sparkling landscapes that makes us think differently about what we call art. For five decades, Anatsui has shown us that art is all about perspective, and his ability to change the way we look at the world has recently been recognized with the prestigious commission to create an installation for the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London later this year.

Prophet could be a self-portrait, since Anatsui is himself a prophet. In his assemblages, he foresees a new life for discarded objects, and he wills a future that would be ordinarily be denied them. Critic Jason Farago’s assessment certainly applies to the present work, which is almost beyond language, “I find it so hard to describe them: as vast, undulant tapestries, each one rippling and fluttering like a flag by the seashore? Or as heavy, defensive tessellations of metal, like the plate armor of soldiers in medieval Europe or Japan? As monumental mosaics, as landscapes of metallic bits and bobs?” (J. Farago, “El Anatsui’s Monumental New Show Is an Act of Justice,” The New York Times, March 28, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/arts/design/el-anatsui-art-review-munich.html). Prophet contains these multitudes. The bottle caps, interwoven by copper wire, unite in a multicolored scene, almost like a Pointillist canvas, which complements the monochromatic, Andy Warhol-esque silver. We could even liken Prophet to Warhol’s Silver Clouds, not only in terms of a shared color, but also in their aspirations to turn the utilitarian into something weightless and contemplative.

Prophet is also a study in texture, from which Anatsui forges a human connection, “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. For example, if you go to consult a spiritualist, there is need to access or invoke the presence of an individual, and he may ask you to bring an item that belongs to that person, something he has used or handled” (E. Anatsui, quoted in L.L. James, “Convergence: History, Materials, and the Human Hand—An Interview with El Anatsui,” Art Journal, Vol. 67, No. 2, Summer 2008, p. 49). This kind of object-based intimacy is like the laying of hands in the Christian tradition—a means of healing the sick through physical touch. Consider the thousands of hands that cast aside these bottle caps, and here they are joined as one like a chorus.

Prophet is a trans-national assemblage that, like the Impressionists or the Dadaists, speaks incisively to modern life. Anatsui, according to curator Susan M. Vogel, is a flaneur, “He has always been alive to the vivid, unpredictable universe of contemporary urban life and for the past quarter century has found his eloquent materials there” (S.M. Vogel, El Anatsui: Art and Life, New York, 2021, p. 13). The atmospheric modernity of Prophet therefore stands toe-to-toe with iconic Impressionist paintings like The Boulevard Montmartre at Night (1897), which showcases the new lamplight that transformed the streets of Paris.

“Art is the one language we all speak, and is infinite in power. Art is about the voyage of the human spirit and the commonality of all experiences.” - El Anatsui

The art historical tradition of tapestries and wall hangings is also relevant. There are certainly a number of pre-modern examples, especially in religious contexts, but also more contemporary ones, like Anni Albers’s Bauhaus weavings and the wall assemblages of Frank Stella. Anatsui deepens this history by using assemblage to reclaim objects that we might deem to be detritus, thereby inspiring generations of artists to think capaciously about the tools available to them.

Prophet is optimistic about the future, and establishes a cycle that is both local and global. It evinces the possibility of a new life for objects, and by extension humans. Even in its enormity, Prophet is an intimate work that asks us to consider the history of each of its humble elements. These individuals work together as a whole, but cannot fully be subsumed. They retain their quirks and unique contributions to the community, as do each of us. Prophet is a testament to Anatsui’s remarkable resourcefulness and insight.

More from 21st Century Evening Sale

View All
View All