Lot 8
  • 8

Enrico Castellani

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Enrico Castellani
  • Superficie Bianca
  • acrylic on shaped canvas
  • 235 by 279.5cm.; 92 1/2 by 110 1/8 in.
  • Executed in 1967.


Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1969 


Tomaso Trini, "Una Collezione in una Casa", Domus, January 1970, cover, illustrated in colour, p. 33, illustrated in colour 

Renata Wirz and Federico Sardella, Enrico Castellani, Catalogo Ragionato, Tomo Secondo, Opere 1955-2005, Milan 2012, p. 382, no. 246

Catalogue Note

Commissioned as a key feature within Gio Ponti’s transcendent architectural masterpiece Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia in Malo, Castellani’s Superficie Bianca was a crucial facet in this engrossing creative vision. Completed in 1969 the house is a Gesamtkunstwerk of remarkable splendour and elegance, a triumphant minimal environment that manifests some of the key avant-garde discourses of the 1960s. Reflecting the primary concerns of the Milan-based experimental gallery Azimut, founded by Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni in 1959, as well as the German and French counterparts Group Zero and Group Motus, the building overlooks the established principles of art in favour of a pure monochrome language transfused by light. Castellani’s Superficie Bianca, a luminous white canvas transformed by a converging linear perspective and a subtly undulating rhythm of shadow and light, is a resplendent visual apotheosis of this artistic ideology. The work’s impressive scale and spatial composition bears reference to the five large pieces famously created for Room LVI of the Central Italian Pavilion of the 1966 Venice Biennale, an immersive environment comprised entirely of Castellani’s undulating white canvases. The unique conception and provenance of the present work, nonetheless, set it apart from the rest of the Superficie Bianca series. Having remained within Ponti's striking architectural construction since its creation, the appearance of this work for auction denotes an exceptional event.

Composing his flawless white canvases with a sequential pattern of nails using a nail gun, Castellani created a progression of negative and positive poles, a rhythmically undulating relief suffused by a dynamic interplay of light and dark. Appropriating an almost sculptural language the artist achieves the illusionary effect traditionally created through the painted chiaroscuro. Germano Celant has written of this extraordinary effect of light that exists within works from the Superfici series: "Light illuminates the reliefs, creates shadows and reflections, flattens and highlights the surfaces, and thus confers existence on the painting. Therefore Castellani could not fail to gradually approach its splendour through the use of the absolute colour white, which radiates, slides across and unifies the surface and at the same time functions as a register of total freedom" (Germano Celant quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani, 2001, p. 17).

Following in the footsteps of his mentor, Lucio Fontana, Castellani reviewed the discourse of painting via artistic reduction in search of an elemental art that would reveal a new dimension beyond the traditional canvas ground. However, in contrast to the violence that underlies Fontana’s radical rupture of the two dimensional picture plane, Castellani's act is a sensitive modulation of the surface. Similar to his contemporary and co-founder of the Galleria Azimut, Piero Manzoni, who saturated his canvases with kaolin in order to create his famous Achrome, Castellani makes use of the physical property of the canvas, liberating it from its traditional role of support and asserting its individual materiality and objectivity. Through a heightened dedication to a consistent, rational and minimal artistic language the artist looked to elate the ideal of nothingness as the real domain of art. As pointed out by Bruno Corà "[the artist’s] phyisical punctum – distinguished in ogives and regressions, Pythagorically managed and addressed towards creating image – rhythm by way of regular intervals or progression, fixed or variable quotas is an elemental entity, indefinitely repeatable, the generator of a differentiated infinite" (Bruno Corà, Castellani, Milan 1996, p. 23).

Frequently employed for its properties as a ‘non-colour’ by artists who subscribed to the Zero mentality, white truly exemplified the nihilistic reduction of the artwork. Freed from the constraints of representation Superficie Bianca encourages the viewer to look beyond the picture plane and posit their own ideals and theories onto a 'blank' canvas. Castellani outlined his overarching concern to forge a distinct artistic dialect devoid of all traditional chromatic and figurative implications by explaining: "For me, the question is that of creating a totally white surface outside any pictorial phenomenon, any intervention extraneous to the value of the surface: this is a white surface that is a white surface and nothing else. With the ‘lines’ there is not even the possible ambiguity of the picture: the line extends only in length, it runs to infinity, the only dimension of time… There is nothing to say: one can only be"(Enrico Castellani quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani, 2001, p. 45).