Lot 111
  • 111

Alberto Burri

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Alberto Burri
  • Composizione No. 5
  • signed and dated 52 on the reverse
  • fabric, collage, oil, and mixed media on burlap
  • 22 1/4 by 33 7/8 in. 56.5 by 86 cm.


Allan Frumkin Gallery, Chicago
Private Collection, Portland (acquired from the above in May 1953)
Thence by descent to the present owner


Chicago, Allan Frumkin Gallery, Alberto Burri, January - February 1953


Allen S. Weller, "Chicago", Art Digest, February 1953, p. 11, illustrated
Sandra Pinto, "Dell'Avanguardia", Metro, pl. no. 14, 1968, no. 2, p. 18, illustrated
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Burri, Contributi al Catalogo Sistematico, Città di Castello, 1990, no. 158, p. 46, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Burri’s aesthetic inspiration was drawn from his experience as a field surgeon in the Italian army during World War II. Following his unit’s capture in northern Africa, he started to paint on burlap that was at hand in his prisoner-of-war camp. The rough materials such as burlap and sack-cloth mimicked the bandages he had previously used and he began to piece these materials together in the same way a surgeon sutures a wound.  Seizing on his materials’ irregular textures and subtle variations of tone, Burri made patterns which express vital tension. These raw fabrics reflected the atmosphere of post-war Italy, a country that could not provide enough food for its people and relied heavily on rationed handouts.  Burri’s Sacchi series often incorporated the burlap bags that were part of this relief effort. His artistic process evokes a strong sense of humanity, of wear and usage, of stain and age.

The present work, Composition No. 5 (included in Burri’s first commercial exhibition in the United States at Allan Frumkin Gallery in Chicago) is among the first of the Sacchi paintings that Burri executed. Allen S. Weller wrote about the Chicago Exhibition: “A characteristic example is Composition No. 5, in which heavy areas of shredded burlap have become permanent plastic elements in a complex pattern of variously woven textiles and areas of flat painted color." (Allen S. Weller, "Chicago," Art Digest, Febraury 1953, p. 11).  The work possesses all the stylistic elements of Burri’s more mature works: his search for objective and abstract colors, the exploration of different materials, his utilization of geometric and non naturalistic formal elements, the play of the composition against the full available picture space, the freedom of the unfinished, and the ability to exist in three dimensions. The seemingly simple composition is jarringly complex.  The austerity of both texture and color endows the work with a sense of severity, emphasized by the two flanking geometric shapes. In his effort to create a new order, a non imitative, original composition, outside of the realm of tradition taste, Burri reached for structural order which felt consistent with his knowledge and experience, with nature and architecture, with anatomy and science.

Burri’s intriguing burlap paintings first drew the attention of International art critics in the early '50s.  In 1953, his work was included in the group exhibition Younger European Painters at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and was shown at the Allan Frumkin Gallery, Chicago, and the Stable Gallery, New York.  Allan Frumkin wrote about Burri in his exhibition’s review: "There is no doubt that he has an acute intuitional visual imagination, which at times gives to his work a disturbing excitement.".  Burri's work inspired a young Robert Rauschenberg to travel to Rome to watch him work.  After his second visit to Burri's studio in 1953, Rauschenberg returned to New York and the following year embarked on his Combine Painting series.   "To his peers, Burri was seen as an absolutely crucial figure to the Italian art scene," stated Matthew Gale, curator of a new exhibition at London's Tate Modern in 2005 Beyond Painting: Burri, Fontana, Manzoni.  Alberto Burri’s legacy resides in lofty tandem with Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni at the apex of the reformation of Post War Italian Art.