First Exhibition in the United States in Over 35 Years Devoted to the Italian Artist
Alberto Burri in his studio in Case Nove di Morra, Città di Castello, Italy, 1982. Photo: Aurelio Amendola © Aurelio Amendola, Pistoia, Italy
From October 9, 2015, to January 6, 2016, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum ( 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York) will present a major retrospective—Alberto Burri: The Trauma Of Painting–the first in the United States in more than thirty-five years and the most comprehensive in this country—devoted to the work of Italian artist Alberto Burri (1915–1995). Exploring the beauty and complexity of Burri’s process-based works, the exhibition positions the artist as a central protagonist of post–World War II art and revises traditional narratives of the cultural exchanges between the United States and Europe in the 1950s and ’60s.
Rosso plastica (Red Plastic), 1961. Plastic (PVC), acrylic, and combustion on plastic (PE) and black fabric, 142 x 153 cm. Modern Art Foundation. © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/2015 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Photo: Massimo Napoli, Rome, courtesy Modern Art Foundation
Burri broke with the gestural, painted surfaces of both American Abstract Expressionism and European Art Informel by manipulating unorthodox pigments and humble, prefabricated materials. A key figure in the transition from collage to assemblage, Burri barely used paint or brush, and instead worked his surfaces with stitching and combustion, among other signal processes. With his torn and mended burlap sacks, “hunchback” canvases, and melted industrial plastics, Burri often made allusions to skin and wounds, but in a purely abstract idiom. The tactile quality of his work anticipated Post-Minimalist and feminist art of the 1960s, while his red, black, and white “material monochromes” defied notions of purity and reductive form associated with American formalist modernism. Bringing together more than one hundred works, including many that have never before been seen outside of Italy, the exhibition demonstrates how Burri blurred the line between painting and sculptural relief and created a new kind of picture-object that directly influenced Neo-Dada, Process art, and Arte Povera.
Grande cretto nero (Large Black Cretto), 1977. Acrylic and PVA on Celotex, 149.5 x 249.5 cm. Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne/Centre de création industrielle, Gift of the artist, 1978
© Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Photo: © CNAC/MNAM/Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, New York
Francesca Lavazza said: “Alberto Burri’s birth date of 1915 represents a major moment in Italian history, marking the nation’s entrance into World War I, but also the establishment of Lavazza’s longstanding headquarters in Turin. This year, Lavazza is proud to celebrate its own 120th birthday with support for this sweeping exhibition of one of the pioneers of modernism, and by joining the Guggenheim in showing Burri and his enduring influence upon the art world on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Grande ferro M 4 (Large Iron M 4), 1959. Welded iron sheet metal and tacks on wood framework, 199.8 x 189.9 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 60.1572. © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/2015 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Photo: Kristopher McKay © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York
Burri is best known for his series of Sacchi (sacks) made of stitched and patched remnants of torn burlap bags, in some cases combined with fragments of discarded clothing. Far less familiar to American audiences are the artist’s other series, which this exhibition represents in depth: Catrami (tars), Muffe (molds), Gobbi (hunchbacks, or canvases with protrusions), Bianchi (white monochromes), Legni (wood combustions), Ferri (irons, or protruding wall reliefs made from prefabricated cold-rolled steel), Combustioni plastiche (plastic combustions, or melted plastic sheeting), Cretti (induced craquelure, or cracking), and Cellotex works (flayed and peeled fiberboard).
Nero bianco e sacco (Black White and Sack), ca. 1954. Oil, fabric, burlap, pumice, and PVA on canvas, 125 x 107 cm. Courtesy Galleria Tega, Milan. © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/2015 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Photo: Paolo Vandrasch and Romina Bettega
The exhibition unfolds on the ramps of the Guggenheim both chronologically and organized by series, following the artist’s movement from one set of materials, processes, and colors to the next. Throughout his career, Burri also engaged with the history of painting, reflecting his deep familiarity with the Renaissance art of his native Umbria. The exhibition also reveals the dialogue with American Minimalism that informed Burri’s later Cretti and Cellotex works and features a new film on his enormous Grande cretto (Large Cretto, 1985–89), a Land art memorial to the victims of a 1968 earthquake in Gibellina, Sicily.
Born in Città di Castello, Italy, in 1915, Burri trained to be a doctor and served as a medic in the Italian army in North Africa during World War II. Following his unit’s capture in Tunisia in 1943, he was interned at a prisoner-of-war camp in Hereford, Texas, where he began painting. After his return to Italy in 1946, Burri devoted himself to art—a decision prompted by his firsthand experiences of war, deprivation, and Italy’s calamitous defeat. His first solo show, at Rome’s Galleria La Margherita in 1947, featured landscapes and still lifes. After a trip to Paris in 1948–49, he began to experiment with tarry substances, ground pumice, industrial enamel paints, and metal armatures and formed accretions and gashes that destroy the integrity of the picture plane. He then traumatized the very structure of painting by puncturing, exposing, and reconstituting the support. Instead of using the traditional cohesive piece of stretched canvas, Burri assembled his works from piecemeal rags, broken wood veneer, welded steel sheets, or layers of melted plastic—stitching, riveting, soldering, stapling, gluing, and burning his materials along the way. His work demolished and reconfigured the Western pictorial tradition, while transforming the scale and affective power of modernist collage.
Rosso gobbo (Red Hunchback), 1953. Acrylic, fabric, and resin on canvas; metal rod on verso, 56.5 x 85 cm
Private collection, Rome. © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/2015. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome
Though considered an Italian artist, Burri married an American dancer, Minsa Craig, and, beginning in 1963, resided annually in Los Angeles during the winter months. In 1978 the artist established the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri in Città di Castello. The Fondazione Burri today operates two museums in his hometown that present artwork he personally installed, the Palazzo Albizzini and the Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco. The Fondazione is lending two pictures pulled directly from its permanent collection exhibition: Grande bianco (Large White, 1952) and Grande bianco (Large White, 1956). The former is one of three large textile collages that Robert Rauschenberg saw in Burri’s Rome studio in early 1953. Those three grand works will be reunited in the exhibition.
Installation View: Inaugural Selection, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 21, 1959–June 19, 1960. Third from left: Alberto Burri’s Legno e bianco 1 (Wood and White 1, 1956). Photo: © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York
Legno e bianco I (Wood and White I), 1956. Wood veneer, combustion, acrylic, and Vinavil on canvas, 87.7 x 159 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 57.1463. © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome
Lo strappo (The Rip), 1952. Oil, fabric, thread, pumice, and Vinavil, 87 x 58 cm. Collezione Beatrice Monti della Corte. © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/2015 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Photo: © Christie’s Image Ltd
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Guggenheim Museum led an in-depth conservation study of the artworks assembled for the retrospective as well as numerous other works from the various series. The study, which involved the efforts of a multidisciplinary team of curators, conservation scientists, and painting, paper, objects, and textile conservators, analyzed the wide variety of original and complex materials and working methods Burri used. Continue reading