Lot 21
  • 21

Enrico Castellani

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Enrico Castellani
  • Dittico bianco
  • acrylic on shaped canvas, in two parts
  • 178.5 by 264cm.; 70 1/4 by 103 7/8 in.
  • Executed in 1968.


Galleria dell’Ariete, Milan

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in the 1970s


Achille Bonito Oliva and Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, Enrico Castellani, Parma 1976, p. 85, no. 71, illustrated

Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani: 1958-1970, 2001, p. 319; and 2002, p. 331, illustrated

Renata Wirz and Federico Sardella, Enrico Castellani: Catalogo Ragionato, Opere 1955-2005, Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 386, no. 260, illustrated


Colour: The colour in the printed catalogue is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is warmer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There are some minor handling marks in places to the extreme edges. Close inspection reveals extremely minor surface inconsistency to the upper left quadrant and a few minute media accretions in the lower left quadrant. There are a few stable hairline cracks, one to the lower left edge towards the centre and one towards the lower right corner. There is a small vertical abrasion to the top of the central divide. Inspection under ultra violet light reveals a small repair to one of the furthest right protrusions and a few minor retouchings to the top of the central divide.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In Dittico bianco, Castellani extended an influential line of work in which he strived to “restore [art] to its ontological essential quality” (Enrico Castellani in conversation with Scott Indrisek, ‘Enrico Castellani, One of Minimalism’s Fathers’, Modern Painters, October 2014, online resource). Informed by the gestural freedom of Art Informel and Tachisme, Castellani developed the reduction of chromatic representation to reach an absolute: monochrome canvases whose manipulated surfaces communicate through subtle changes in light, devoid of any extrinsic gesture.

Rhythmic corridors of extroflexions and introflexions converge and vibrate through the surface of Dittico bianco as “moments accentuated in the sense of light and… shadow” (Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco, ‘I ritmi pitagorici di Castellani’, Rapporto 60, Rome 1966, n.p.). The central division formed from the meeting diptych canvases accentuates the perspective as the repeated line of undulations appears to regress into infinity. In this manner, the correspondence of the canvases and the rows of concave and convex depressions implies an artwork that, although limited by its own physicality, has the potential for the limitless, and thus harbours the possibility of endless extension.

The canvases are large white monochromes, being, “outside any pictorial phenomenon, any intervention extraneous to the value of the surface” and as such the modulations of the canvas prevail, not as expressions of any external entity, but as both the process and formulation of their own existence (Enrico Castellani quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani, 2001, p. 45). In liberating the work from superfluous modes of representation Castellani’s self-referential and autonomous canvases associate themselves with philosophical dialogues on space and time. Castellani notes: “only the possession of an elementary entity, a line, an indefinitely repeatable rhythm or monochrome surface is necessary to give the works the concreteness of the infinite and subject them to the influence of time, the only conceivable dimension, yardstick and justification of our spiritual need” (Enrico Castellani, 'Continuitá e nuovo', Azimuth, Milan, No. 2, 1960, n.p.). In this sense, the examination of the fundamentals of aesthetics becomes an exploration of unadulterated concepts which are manifested, not in image, but in the existence of the work as an objective entity – it is “reduced to the semanticity of its own language” (Enrico Castellani quoted in: Germano Clement, Enrico Castellani 1958-1970, Milan 2001, p. 43).

Each punctiform modulation exists as a three dimensional protrusion in space, the ebb and flow of the canvas reveals a seamless variation of light. The subtly adapting tones affirm Castellani’s work as an object existing in and communicating with its ambient environment, with inexhaustible possibilities of tension and drama under changing conditions of darkness or illumination. The supervenience of ambient setting on Castellani’s monochrome work calls for a reading from different perspectives and as such, fleeting moments in time and space.

These conceptual and aesthetic convictions aligned Castellani with the influential ZERO movement’s collective ambitions of “freeing art from every form of narrative or subjective pictorial expression in order to achieve a purification” (Bruno Cora, ‘Enrico Castellani: Art with the Semantic Value of Language’, in: Renata Wirz and Federico Sardella, Enrico Castellani, Catalogo Ragionato, Tomo Primo, Milan 2012, p. 13). Monochrome painting being the force majeure of the ZERO group's artistic nihilism, Castellani differentiated himself from the slashed works of Lucio Fontana and the fire paintings of Otto Peine and Yves Klein, instead employing an assiduous approach to the canvas.

The technique Castellani developed was one of carefully distorting the surface with protruding nails on each side of the canvas, arriving at endless combinations of patterns derived from mathematical formulae. Finding his closest artistic affinity with Piero Manzoni, whose seminal Achromes achieved textured surfaces  by  being soaked in Kaolin and left to sag and dry into intricate protruding lines, in December 1969 they co-founded the celebrated Azimut Gallery and Azimuth journal to extend their exploration of, among others, the ZERO groups aims to “free [them]selves from traditional artistic practice and arrive at new representations made up of points of light” (Stephan Von Wiese, ‘Il grado ZERO nell’arte’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Siena, Palazzo delle Papesse, ZERO 1958-1968. Tra Germania e Italia, 2004, p. 15).

Indisputably influential, Castellani’s work reverberated with the post war avant-garde groups Arte Nucleare, Gruppo N, Gruppo T, Motus, GRAV and Nul and perhaps most poignantly with the seminal works of Donald Judd who famously canonised Castellani as ‘the Father of Minimalism’.