Galleria Seno, Milan
Acquired from the above by the previous owner in the 1970s
Enrico Castellani, ‘Totalitá nell’arte d’oggi’, 1958, cited in: Exh. Cat., Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani: 1958-1970, 2001, p. 149.
This work is as beautiful as it is rare and a notable example of Enrico Castellani’s idiosyncratic style. Senza Titolo should be considered as a delicate exercise in light and shade: across the entirety of its undulating canvas, crimson red modulates into deep blue, bright accent plunges into deep shadow, and individual peaks fall away into miniature troughs. In its rippled nailed style, it is typical of this artist’s facture and immediately recognisable to any viewer. However, in its specific chromatic mode, blended between two distinct colours, it is extremely rare; one of only three known works to be completed in the manner, another of which is held in the permanent collection of the Fondazione Prada in Milan.
Castellani was resolutely assiduous and diligent in his artistic endeavours. The efforts of his ZERO group colleagues had often appeared more haphazard and destructive in nature: Lucio Fontana cut his canvas and punched through it with wooden sticks, Otto Piene burned his canvas ground with naked flames, and Piero Manzoni allowed his Kaolin-soaked canvases to crack, and rumple of their own accord. Castellani’s facture is conversely characterised by an approach of meticulous rigour, pinning and pushing his canvas into an exact pattern of regression and procession, with each element of the work executed according to a specific plan and every passage of canvas positioned in a state of exact flux between alternating positive and negative poles. And yet, despite the contrasting nature of his method, Castellani sought to achieve a directly comparable goal to his ZERO peers. Each of these artists aspired to “freeing art from every form of narrative or subject pictorial expression in order to achieve purification” (Bruno Cora, ‘Enrico Castellani: Art with the Semantic Value of Language’, in Renata Wirz and Federico Sardella, Enrico Castellani, Catalogo Ragionata, Tomo Primo, Milan 2012, p. 13).
Interestingly, it was only through the rigidity of his inflexible schema that Castellani was able to create such a flickering and mesmeric effect in his canvases. As the viewer progresses across the face of the work, different areas are cast into bright light and deep shadow, different individual dimples flash into individual illuminaton, and different passages of the painting appear almost to pulsate with dynamic energy. Germano Celant, celebrated scholar of the Italian avant-garde, has attested to the importance of this effect within Castellani’s praxis, and the manner in which it brings his works to life: “Light illuminates the reliefs, creates shadows and reflection, flattens and highlights the surfaces, and thus confers existence on the painting” (Germano Celant cited in: Exh. Cat., Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani, 2001, p. 17). This emphasis on the contrast between light and shade is further significant within the wider context of Italian art history, having long been the factor with which Italian artists distinguished themselves from their international counterparts. Just as Leonardo da Vinci caused a renaissance paradigm-shift with his chiaroscuro modelling technique, and Caravaggio shattered the Baroque with his tenebrist dichotomy between bright white light and deep dark shadow, so too Castellani accedes to their tradition with his measured and exact compositions, alternating between minute poles of light. The present work should thus be considered exceptional: all but unparalleled within Castellani’s oeuvre for the manner in which it combines the chromatic effects of its composition with the dramatic lighting effects of this artist’s shaped-canvas style.
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