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Details & Cataloguing

In Context Italian Art

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Enrico Castellani
B. 1930
SUPERFICIE BIANCA
signed, titled and dated 2001 on the overlap
acrylic on shaped canvas
100 by 220 cm. 39 3/8 by 86 5/8 in.
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This work is registered in the Archivio of the Fondazione Enrico Castellani, Milan, under the number 01-033 and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

Provenance

Studio Delise, Portogruaro

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001

Literature

Renata Wirz and Federico Sardella, Enrico Castellani, Catalogo ragionato, Opere 1955-2005, Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 564, no. 919, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Enrico Castellani’s Superficie paintings, of which Superficie Bianca (2001) is a superb example, occupy a position of utmost importance in the history of abstraction in the later Twentieth Century. Rejecting any concession to figurative representation, these works refer only to themselves and pioneered an ascetic visual dialogue that set a precedent for the burgeoning minimalist movement in the US. In line with the primary concerns of the German ZERO Group and French Group Motus, which defined art as an engagement of light, space, time, and motion, Castellani and Piero Manzoni co-founded the Gallery Azimuth in Milan in 1959. Since then Castellani has continued to blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and has radically redefined our understanding of medium specificity.

Formally trained as an architect, Castellani manipulates the physical surface of his canvases to alter perceptions of space. In Superficie Bianca each punctiform modulation exists as a three dimensional protrusion, the ebb and flow of the canvas reveals a seamless variation of light. The subtly adapting tones affirm Castellani’s work as an object existing in and communicating with its ambient environment, with inexhaustible possibilities of tension and drama under changing conditions of darkness or illumination. Beneath the landscape of its subtly undulating relief is a unique geometric stretcher. Using a nail gun, Castellani followed the diagonal lines of this wooden structure and carefully positioned nails to push the canvas out from behind. Displaying a sequential pattern of extroflexions and introflexions, Superficie Bianca reveals Castellani’s vigilant, mathematical arrangement. The result is a dynamic series of waves that appear to resonate even beyond the boundaries of the canvas; aiming to invoke an illusionary effect that escapes time’s grip and comes closer to its pauses, hovering in the void between positive and negative, day and night, life and death, and eventually approaching a higher realm of the divine infinite. Castellani elaborated his primary artistic vision in the Azimuth journal in 1960: “The possession of an elementary entity—a line, an indefinitely repeatable rhythm, and a monochrome surface—is necessary to give the works themselves the concreteness of infinity that may endure the conjugation of time, the only conceivable dimension…of our spiritual need” (Enrico Castellani, ‘Continuità e nuovo’, Azimuth, No. 2, January 1960).

In Superficie Bianca, the artist successfully asserts the individual materiality of the canvas while simultaneously liberating it from its traditional supporting role. Freed from the constraints of representation the work encourages the viewer to look beyond the picture plane and posit their own ideals and theories onto a 'blank' canvas. 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. As stated by Castellani: “a white, empty surface, it is the most abstract thing one can possibly imagine…the surface was becoming whiter and whiter, and in short, the limit would have been an untouched surface” (Enrico Castellani cited in: Adachiara Zevi, Castellani, Ravenna 1984,  p. 77).

Indisputably influential, Castellani’s work reverberated with the post war avant-garde groups Arte Nucleare, Gruppo N, Gruppo T, Motus, GRAV and Nul and perhaps most poignantly with the seminal works of Donald Judd who famously canonised Castellani as ‘the Father of Minimalism’.

In Context Italian Art

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London