Between an exhibition at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York and Sotheby’s upcoming Modern and Contemporary Art sale in Milan, Alberto Burri’s popularity is resurging. To discuss the Italian artist’s legacy, Sotheby's Contemporary Art Deputy Director Specialist, Beatrice Botta spoke with Bruno Corà, President of the Fondazione Burri.
BURRI USED AN OPEN FLAME TO DISTORT THE PLASTIC INTO DRAMATIC CRATERS AND FURROWS FOR
HIS EXTRAORDINARILY PLASTICHE SERIES. CITTÀ DI CASTELLO, 1976, © AURELIO AMENDOLA BURRI.
Beatrice Botta: Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York is the first exhibition of Burri’s work in the USA for almost 35 years. How will it affect the understanding of Burri among collectors and a wider audience?
Bruno Corà: It is undoubtedly a great exhibition. The curators have worked with responsibility and precision to ensure the whole of the artist’s oeuvre has been represented: from the first Catrami, to the renowned Muffe and Sacchi, to the Cellotex that are Burri’s final works. It provides a perfect foundation for understanding Burri.
Burri’s art and life were strongly informed by the USA, and it was America that realised the importance of his art before Italy. How did this come about?
Burri was already well recognised in Italy by the 1950s, which was a time of intense cultural exchange between Italy and the United States. He exhibited regularly in America, beginning in the early 1950s at the Frumkin Gallery, but it was through the Martha Jackson Gallery and then thanks to James Johnson Sweeney, the director of the Guggenheim Museum director, that his works were included in the landmark exhibition Younger European Painters: A Selection in 1953. Sweeney also wrote the first monograph on the artist.
Burri’s work had a significant impact upon the American artist Robert Rauschenberg. How would you describe their relationship and would you be able to say who influenced whom?
When Rauschenberg came to Rome in the 1950s for his exhibition at the Galleria dell’Obelisco, he went to visit Burri in his studio. There he certainly saw three big white Sacchi, now on display at the Guggenheim. This moment can be considered a turning point for Rauschenberg’s art and his Combine paintings. Critics now agree unanimously that it was Burri’s art that influenced Rauschenberg’s.
To coincide with the centenary of Burri’s birth, the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini is publishing a new catalogue raisonné with almost 3,000 works. What is the relevance of Burri’s work today?
The editing of the catalogue raisonné has taken almost nine years and will comprise six volumes. It will be launched this month at the University of Perugia. Burri’s work blurred the line between painting and sculptural relief, creating a new kind of picture-object that directly influenced Neo-Dada, Process art and Arte Povera. Today his work continues to be an inspiration for a new artistic language.
Is there a connection between Burri donating his works to museums and establishing a foundation prior to his death and his growing success in the global art market?
Burri never wanted to sell his work and only did so when he really needed the money. He never really had a dialogue with the art market and took great care not to compromise himself and his work. His main aim was founding the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini to improve and spread knowledge about his work. He personally followed each step of its creation: buying the buildings, curating each aspect of the administration and the display of the works. This long-term vision contributed enormously to his significance.