Galleria Notizie, Turin
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1965
Turin, Società Promotrice delle Belle Arti al Valentino, Incontro di Torino, Pittori d’America d’Europa e del Giappone, September – October 1962, illustrated (incorrectly dated 1952)
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Alberto Burri, Contributi al catalogo sistematico, Città di Castello 1990, p. 433, no. 1856, illustrated
Mirella Bandini, Cristina Mundici, Teresa Roberto, Luciano Pistoi “inseguo un mio disegno”, Turin 2008, p. 152, illustrated
Bruno Corà, Ed., Burri, Catalogo Generale, Pittura 1945-1957, Vol. I, Città di Castello 2015, p. 218, no. 514, illustrated in colour, Vol. VI, p. 93, no. 5463, illustrated in colour
Significant not only for Alberto Burri’s eminent career, but also within a greater European post-war artistic context, Sacco e Nero encapsulates two of Burri’s defining traits: the artist’s assessment of the transformative power of everyday materials and a subversive exploration of monochrome painting. As striking in its compositional and monochromatic simplicity, as it is captivating in the resonating feeling of melancholia it evokes, Sacco e Nero is an exceptional paradigm of Burri’s most celebrated work. Primarily created between 1950 and 1956, Burri’s Sacchi are revered for their revolutionary use of burlap sacking and the profound conceptual impetus that this purports. Held in some of the most eminent international collections, such as the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, they are considered the very foundation of Burri’s consummate practice.
With its rough, tactile beauty Sacco e Nero blurs the boundaries between painting and sculpture. The only trace of artistic gesture appears in the lines of stitching that meander across the black panel. By covering raw burlap with a mixture of black pigment and PVA resin, Burri rendered Sacco e Nero almost entirely black: dense, opaque pigment has pooled into the membranous, creviced folds of the material. As a result, the viewer is confronted with a dramatic exaggeration of the raw materiality of the roughly hewn cloth; redolent of the artist’s radical appropriation of quotidian form and material in order to imbue his works with a deeper conceptual meaning.
A close examination of Sacco e Nero reveals an impressive manual dexterity in the calculated combination of laceration and repair. Nicknamed ‘the tailor’ by his Roman neighbours, Burri owed his facility with a needle and thread to his training as a surgeon, as well as his time in the army, where he had been regularly required to maintain and repair his uniform. As outlined by curator Emily Braun: “It is sometimes impossible to discern whether a tear and repair was pre-existing in the source material or deliberately introduced by the artist” (Emily Braun cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Guggenheim, Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting, 2016, p. 158). Herein, the rough burlap in Sacco e Nero is imbued with a tangible sense not only of destruction, but also of the passage of time; each blemish speaks of an individual episode of pain; each imperfection recalling a tragic loss. And yet, the resonating devastation is juxtaposed with a restorative function of mending and repair. Despite the semblance of dissolution, the painting’s components hold firmly together.
Burlap was a material that had been ubiquitous during the war, deployed in tents, supply sacks and sandbags, even woven in strips through camouflage netting. Burri’s contemporaries, such as Paul Klee, Joan Miró and Paul Gauguin used stretched burlap from bolts of commercial fabric as a replacement for conventional canvas. However, for Burri the material became much more than just a practical alternative to traditional canvas. It was vitally and indelibly imbued with the turmoil of its historic moment. It became the medium through which Burri was able to comprehend and overcome the horrifying trauma that still dominated the European collective memory in the 1950s and by recycling ragged sacking and cast-off scraps of burlap, Burri highlighted its “visual, tactile and symbolic power” (Emily Braun cited in: Ibid, p. 157).
The masterful balance of ruin and reconstruction is primal to Sacco e Nero, resulting in a heterogeneous topography that exudes an engrossing rough beauty. Herein, Sacco e Nero stands as a tangible metaphor for Burri’s experiences and lasting impressions of the war, as well as a true feat of the post-war avant-garde.
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