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El Anatsui’s Large Sculptures Spark International Following

Two monumental wall sculptures by Ghanaian-born, Nigeria-based sculptor El Anatsui (b. 1944)—Intermittent Signals, 2009, measuring 11 by 35 feet, and Depletion, 2009, measuring 12 by 31 feet—were featured in a recent solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York (Feb. 10–March 13), and were both bought by private collectors.

NEW YORK—Two monumental wall sculptures by Ghanaian-born, Nigeria-based sculptor El Anatsui (b. 1944)—Intermittent Signals, 2009, measuring 11 by 35 feet, and Depletion, 2009, measuring 12 by 31 feet—were featured in a recent solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York (Feb. 10–March 13), and were both bought by private collectors. Prices for the seven works in the show reportedly fell in the range of $450,000/1million.

The gallery has represented Anatsui since 2005. The artist’s smaller works, which average 91⁄2 feet by 61⁄4 feet, reportedly sell for $450,000/650,000. According to Shainman, most of the pieces in the recent show have been sold, most to U.S. buyers.

Anatsui’s most recent sculptures are primarily made from pieces of metal—strips of aluminum, bottle caps or automobile parts—strung together with copper wire to create fluid free-standing or hanging works resembling mosaic or tapestry. Earlier in his career, he produced carved wood sculptures, which now sell for $40,000/90,000, but by early to mid-last decade, the artist began working mostly in found metal. After that change in medium, Anatsui’s career “took off,” according to Elisabeth Lalouschek, artistic director of October Gallery, London, which has represented the artist in Europe since 1993. “In the last few years, he has really risen, because of the visibility of his metal work,” she told ARTnewsletter. In 2002, the British Museum purchased a metal sculpture, followed by the Pompidou Center, Paris, in 2005.

Anatsui’s work was also featured in the “Think with the Senses—Feel with the Mind” show, curated by Robert Storr, at the 2007 Venice Biennale, which brought him considerable attention.

“He was quite well known already, but the Bien­nale was certainly a pivotal, very important point” in Anatsui’s career, Shainman told ARTnewsletter. Storr, he said, used the artist’s work “to bracket the exhibition, both figuratively and literally.”

“El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa,” a major retrospective, will open at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, on Oct. 2, and will travel to the Museum for African Art, Long Island City, New York, early next year.

Lalouschek said the artist’s prices are “being revised, because of a lot of interest and demand. People are willing to pay more.” She said the majority of his buyers live in the United States, though there are a number of others in Europe and the Middle East.

Anatsui’s work has come up for public sale less than a dozen times. The highest price realized at auction is $604,600, paid for the 823⁄4-by-120-inch aluminum and copper-wire Healer, 2006, at Sotheby’s in London in 2008, far above the $300,000/432,000 estimate. Other top prices include $279,000, paid for the aluminum and ­copper-wire Congress of Elders, 2006, at Phillips de Pury & Company in London in February of last year (estimate: $260,000/360,900), and $44,000, paid for the two-part carved wood Sculpture 2 (Helicopter), 1997, at Bonhams in London last April (estimate: $11,750/17,640).

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