In dialogue with his European contemporaries such as Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni and like-minded minimalist innovators in the US, Castellani became one of the most influential figures of the avant-garde during the 1960s. In an era that rallied against the impassioned gestures of Abstract Expressionism and Art Informel, Castellani and his contemporaries sought pictorial silence and expressive absence. Together with Manzoni, Castellani established the Azimut Gallery and accompanying Azimuth Journal in 1959. Concerned with exploring the elemental properties of aesthetic expression, Azimut and Azimuth became a locus for exhibitions and discussion for the Italian avant-garde. In this regard, Castellani and Manzoni were natural allies of the German ZERO group, founded by Otto Piene and Heinz Mack in 1957, which sought new forms of perception through privileging light and movement as the essential tenets of a new and radical form of artistic expression. Until its dissolution in 1966, Castellani and Manzoni exhibited under the mantel of ZERO alongside an increasingly international coalition of artists all of whom shared an aim to transcend the limitations of conventional painting and sculpture.
Meanwhile, Castellani began his involvement with the Movimento Punto in Milan, founded in 1961. Concentrated on understanding the condition of the finite and infinite, it recognized the spirit of contemplation from the Chinese Tang and Song dynasties and was quick to gain participation from artists in Europe and America including Enrico Castellani. Superficie Rossa encapsulates the spirit of the movement in its indefinitely repeatable rhythm of monochrome surface which Castellani deems “necessary to give the works the concreteness of the infinite and subject them to the influence of time” (Enrico Castellani cited in: Germano Celant, Enrico Castellani 1958-1970, Milan 2001, p. 43). In 1963, the artist presented his works in Asia for the first time at Punto 5 exhibition in Taipei, and held his first Asian solo exhibition in Tokyo in 1969, developing a deep-rooted connection with Asia. His works, minimalist in both colour and form, have for decades been perceived to be demonstrative of Eastern notions of Zen. Art Historian Elena Pontiggia writes: “Looking at a work by Castellani is like looking at a Zen garden. In Kyoto there are gardens of stone whose profound attraction stems from the thoughts they stimulate rather than from any exterior ornament. There are no flowers, vegetation or plants: there is just a theory of small white, regular points, a dotting of pebbles from which a rough stone emerges. What do people who look at the gardens of Saomi see? Nothing and everything. One’s vision immediately becomes thought and thought loses itself in silence... Likewise, in Castellani’s punctuations vision becomes thought” (Elena Pontiggia cited in: Exh. Cat., Milan, Borromini Artecontemporanea, Enrico Castellani, 2002, n.p.).
In this way, the rippling pattern of miniature peaks that permeate the surface of Superficie Rossa seemingly resonate 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.
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