Lot 14
  • 14

Alberto Burri

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 GBP
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  • Alberto Burri
  • Bianco Plastica 1
  • signed and dated 61 on the reverse
  • plastic, combustion and tempera on faesite
  • 75 by 99.5cm.; 29 1/2 by 39 1/4 in.


Marlborough Galleria d'Arte S.p.A, Rome

Galleria Blu, Milan

Private Collection (acquired from the above in the 1980s)

Thence by descent to the present owner


Rome, Marlborough Galleria d'Arte S.p.A, Burri, 1962-63, n.p., illustrated

New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Alberto Burri, 1964, no. 2

Milan, Museo della Permanente, Mario Ballocco all’Origine della forma, 2012-13, n.p., illustrated

Milan, Fondazione Passaré, L’avanguardia primitiva. La collezione di Alessandro Passaré / The primitive avant-garde. The Alessandro Passaré collection, 2014, no. 62, illustrated

Gallarate, Museo MAGA, Missoni. L’arte il colore, 2015, p. 114, no. 62, illustrated 

Gallarate, Museo MAGA, on loan to the collection, 2014-15


Cesare Brandi, Alberto Burri, Rome 1963, p. 219, no. 328, illustrated

Fondation Palazzo Albizzini, Ed., Burri Contributi al Catalogo Sistematico, Città di Castello 1990, p. 447, no. 1925, illustrated

Pierre Amrouche and Giuliano Arnaldi, Via Passaré, Milan 2007, p. 105, illustrated 

Enrico Crispolti, Burri “Esistenziale”. Un “taccuino critico” storico preceduto da un dialogo attuale, Macerata 2015, n.p., no. 1, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Burri: Esistenziale, Milan 2015, p. 8, illustrated 


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is warmer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There are small hairline cracks to the white board, most notably to the lower right centre as visible in the catalogue illustration. All other surface irregularities are in keeping with the artist's working process. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra-violet light.
"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

Complexly layered and shrouded with a raw intensity, Bianco Plastica 1 forms part of Alberto Burri’s most celebrated and important series, the Plastiche. A continuation of the artist’s pioneering celebration of the unglamorous substances of modern living, first explored through his coarsely stitched burlap Sacchi, and wooden Legno pieces, the Plastiche of the early 1960s are heralded as the artist’s superlative artistic expression. Using flames to exploit the potential of destructive creativity, Bianco Plastica 1 epitomises the very apotheosis of Burri’s subversive transfiguration of the two-dimensional work of art. Designated number 1 in its title, this work embodies a paradigm in this seminal corpus, further highlighted by its inclusion in the artist’s early career defining exhibitions at the Marlborough Gallery in Rome and New York between 1962 and 1964. Paying tribute to the artist’s radical interrogatory practice, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is playing host to the first major U.S. retrospective of Alberto Burri’s career in over 35 years this October. Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting will elucidate the pioneering complexity and astounding beauty of the artist’s material and process-based practice and marks a landmark moment for the works of the acclaimed Italian master.

Sold to Benefit the Passaré Foundation, Bianco Plastica 1 boasts an impressive provenance, having been held in the renowned collection of Milanese doctor Alessandro Passaré for over three decades. An early supporter of the Italian avant-garde, who famously instated a policy to treat artists free of charge, Passaré became known as “the doctor of artists”. With his office located in the heart of the artistic quarter Brera, between the Academy and the infamous Bar Jamaica, a hotspot for young artists at the time, he developed close relationships with some of the greatest exponents of the Milanese art scene, counting Italian avant-gardist such as Alberto Burri, Piero Manzoni, Enrico Baj, Lucio Fontana and Wifredo Lam as his close friends. A testament to his unique position within the post-war Italian art world, the walls of his apartment on Via Colonna were bedecked with masterpieces by some of the most important Italian artists. Moreover, spurred by an interest in the primitive arts and the influence of Wilfredo Lam, his prescient collecting vision transcended Italian borders and he amassed an acclaimed collection of African art, currently on loan at the MUDEC, Museo delle Culture, in Milan.

Post-war art of the 1950s and ‘60s was characterised by a preoccupation with the horrors of the Second World War and by a generation of artists who sought resolution in the primacy of individual expression, focusing on texture and gestural tension. Burri’s artistic development began during his detainment in a prisoner of war camp in the United States from 1944-1945, after practicing medicine as an officer in the Italian Army. As such, it is no surprise that the critical literature surrounding Burri’s art is often filled with medical allusions in which the gaping holes in the Plastiche are described as “the skins of so many flayed souls” (Jan Butterfield, ‘Alberto Burri: Umbrian Echoes and Alchemical Implications’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Palm Springs,  Alberto Burri, 1982, n.p). In this light it is easy to assume that a sense of violence and aggression runs throughout Burri’s practice, from the torn rags of burlap in the Sacchi, to the ferocious flame of the Plastiche and through to the fractured and broken surfaces of the Cretti. However, many of these works can just as easily allude to the utility and ethical nature of an act of repair and of ‘healing’ just as a flame can be used to both inflict and cauterize a wound. Burri’s early training in medicine is thus reflected through this dual act of wounding and mending, as well as the scientific titles he affords his works, indicating the place of exhibition or the colour and the material; as in the present work which designates the colour ‘Bianco’ (white) and the material ‘Plastica’ (plastic). In Burri’s hands, liquid craters and draping folds of scorched man-made matter elevate the status of everyday materials to that of high art. Breaking down the dichotomy between art and life, the present work conveys a dramatic metaphorical synergy between wounded anatomical allusions and natural biological phenomena. However, to examine the artist’s oeuvre solely from a biographical perspective is to short-change both the artist and the artwork, as Burri’s practice offers a rich and complex ideology that operates beyond the limits of the historical tradition of painting.

Through his unique inquiry into the expressive possibilities of everyday and often impoverished materials, Burri became an extremely influential figure in the ensuing Arte Povera movement in Italy during the late 1960s. With their privileging of unconventional mediums, these artists sought to buck convention and ‘break down the dichotomy between art and life’ – a driving force prophetically central within Burri’s early 1950s production. Nonetheless where these divergent artists would privilege political motives or Pop art strategies, Burri was concerned with the material reality of the picture plane. By searing unassuming lengths of wood, cuts of industrial iron, and sheets of plastic, Burri looked to regenerate and substantiate an expression of the real beyond mimesis. In this sense, Burri’s use of fire and evisceration of traditional art-making practices chimes with the work of his post-war contemporaries. Fontana’s work, influenced by the era of space travel and quantum physics, primarily pursued a mystical and cosmological exploration into the void, epitomised through his Tagli. A big supporter of the Azimuth group and the putative father of the ZERO movement in Italy his violent slashing of the canvas ground furnished the reduction of the dramatic subjectivity within art and underscored the desire to zero down every trace of human intervention in the work of art. For Burri, this will to reduce continued along a path of extreme materiality that called into favour the intervention of the artist in the process of production. Contrary to harbouring a spiritual dimension or posing a metaphysical breach, Burri’s use of natural elements, such as fire, celebrated a raw materiality and explored the expressive potential inherent within the moment of a work’s creation.

Intensely striking and divulging a compositional drama that wavers delicately between the dialectic of annihilation and rebirth, Bianco Plastica 1 exudes an unparalleled raw materiality that stands at the very core of Burri’s radical artistic endeavours. Charcoal, carbon, soot and ash were Burri’s pigments and his palette was as extensive as it was powerful.