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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Alberto Burri
1915 - 1995
CRETTO BIANCO
signed and dated 58 on the reverse
acrovinyl on celotex
38.5 by 52 cm. 15 1/8 by 20 1/2 in.
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Provenance

Galleria La Medusa, Rome

Private Collection  

Christie’s, Milan, 24 May 2005, Lot 353

Acquired from the above by the present owner 

Exhibited

L’Aquila, Castello Cinquecentesco, Alternative attuali: Omaggio a Burri, Retrospettiva antologica 1948-1961, July - August 1962, p. 112, no. 33 (text) 

Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, Mostra Mercato Nazionale d’Arte Contemporanea, March - April 1964, p. 109, no. 1, illustrated

Literature

Bruno Corà, Ed., Burri, Catalogo Generale, Pittura 1958-1994, Vol. II, Città di Castello 2015, p. 101, no. 884, illustrated in colour; and Vol. VI, p. 127, no. i.5861, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1958, Cretto Bianco pinpoints a moment of pivotal innovation within Alberto Burri's highly acclaimed oeuvre. An early and exceptional example of the artist's organic white landscapes, the present work is one of the very first examples of Burri's acclaimed Cretti. Out of only five Cretti works the artist produced in 1958 – of which one now resides in the Prada Collection, Milan –  the present work is the most consummate and resolved. The inspiration for these works stemmed from Burri’s multiple trips to California and the American Southwest; indeed, the year in which Cretto Bianco was created marks the very year he made his first trip there to visit his friend and fellow artist, Afro. Captivated by the withered scenery of California’s Death Valley, Burri recreated the nuanced topography of this rugged landscape in the uniquely sculptural white surfaces of his Cretti. The present work is one of Burri's very first accomplished tributes to these striking natural formations, a subject that he would later return to in more depth in the 1970s. Recalling the genesis of his Cretti the artist explained: “The idea came from [Death Valley], but then in the painting it became something else. I only wanted to demonstrate the energy of a surface” (Alberto Burri cited in: Giuliano Serafini, Burri: The Measure and the Phenomenon, Milan 1999, p. 209).

Following his imprisonment in Texas during the Second World War and the abysmal destruction that conflict had inflicted upon his home country, Burri turned to art as a cathartic outlet to fathom the inconceivable horrors of war. Upon his return to Italy the artist began to explore the limitless potential of materiality as a vehicle for artistic expression, subversively employing matter as the subject of his paintings. Mostly experimenting with the expressive qualities of everyday materials such as burlap, wood and iron at this point, the artist turned to the primal notions of earth and water to create the organically evolving sculptural networks of the Cretti. The measured craquelure in the present work was created using a combination of zinc white and kaolin, which was then covered with PVA glue and water and left to dry. Consequently, as the water vaporised the paint surface solidified, contracted and cracked.

Burri employed an agenda of minimal artistic intervention as a means of exposing the primary nature of materiality. This reductive autonomy stands in correlation to the contemporaneous work of Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, whilst inspiring and pre-figuring the work of Enrico Castellani, Paolo Scheggi and Agostino Bonalumi in their quest for a dematerialisation of the artwork as substantive of the real. In this respect Burri stands among the most radical and important artists to emerge from postwar Europe: his work embodies the conceptual and aesthetic bridge between the expression of Art informel during the 1940s and ‘50s, and Arte povera, which in the late 1960s began experimenting with unconventional processes and everyday materials. Combining the material lyricism of Art informel with the autonomy of process and form typical to Arte povera, Burri’s Cretto Bianco from 1958 innovated a visual riposte, and even antecedent, to concurrent artistic philosophising regarding the ‘Death of the Author’; indeed, it was not until 1967 that Roland Barthes would proclaim the very demise of the author in literature.

In resembling forms found in nature and bearing no trace of the artist’s hand, Burri’s Cretti embody seemingly autonomous entities. Herein, they visually chime with Manzoni’s contemporaneous Achromes, in which the artist sought to create a self-governing work of art devoid of figuration and literal representation. At the very same time as Burri during the late 1950s, Manzoni began this pursuit in an attempt to reduce the interaction between the artist and the work of art. By soaking his canvases in kaolin and leaving them to dry in the sun, Manzoni relinquished formal influence to the natural drying process during which the liquid clay would contract and solidify. Likewise, in Burri’s Cretti the medium itself was the catalyst driving compositional form. Nevertheless, there always remains a certain degree of control. The size of each Cretto, for example, was dependant on the thickness of the paint mixture, as well as the amount that was applied.

A compelling mosaic of sculpted furrows, Bianco Cretto epitomises the artist’s revolutionary approach to material. On the cusp of absolute destruction and creation, it exemplifies Burri’s revolutionary transfiguration of the two-dimensional work of art. As an exceptionally early example of his celebrated Cretti, it ranks amongst the most important works of Burri’s seminal artistic practice.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London