Galleria Annunciata, Milan
Studio d'Arte Pescali, Milan
Studio Cavalieri, Bologna
Paolo Pagani, Bologna
Tornabuoni Arte Contemporanea, Milan
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2004
Renata Wirz and Federico Sardella, Enrico Castellani. Catalogo ragionato. Opere 1955-2005, Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 405, no. 323, illustrated
Composing his flawless white canvases with a sequential pattern of nails, using a nail gun against a structured canvas with lattices of extra stretchers on the back, Castellani aimed to achieve a progression of negative and positive poles in his Superfici series; a rhythmic relief suffused with the subtle interplay of light and dark. In appropriating this almost sculptural language, he achieved the illusionary modelling effect usually associated with the traditional Italian painting method of chiaroscuro. The scholar Germano Celant has written of this: “Light illuminates the reliefs, creates shadows and reflections, flattens and highlights the surfaces, and thus confers existence on the painting. Therefore Castellani could not fail to gradually approach its splendour through the use of the absolute colour white, which radiates, slides across, and unifies the surface and at the same time functions as a register of total freedom” (Germano Celant quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani, 2001, p. 17).
In its sweeping purity of form and colour, Superficie Bianca reflects the primary concerns and ideals of the ZERO group, of which Castellani formed an integral part during its relatively brief existence during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The collection of artists who exhibited under the ZERO banner during this period – including Lucio Fontana, Otto Piene, and Yves Klein amongst others – sought to transcend the limitations of conventional painting, seeking to discover an entirely new creative language unencumbered by extraneous concerns and traditional ideas of illustration. They aspired to “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 Ragionata, Tomo Primo, Milan, 2012, p. 13)
Within this group, Castellani found his closest artistic affinity with Piero Manzoni, whose seminal Achromes achieved textural difference by being soaked in Kaolin and left to sag and dry into intricate protruding lines. In December 1959, he and Castellani co-founded the Azimut Gallery and Azimuth journal through which they were able to extend their exploration of the ZERO groups stated goals. The present work is a fantastic example of the ways in which they sought to “free themselves 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 della Papesse, ZERO 1958-1968, 2004, p. 15). Their work proved hugely influential amongst the post-war avant-garde, perhaps most poignantly influencing the seminal works of Donald Judd who later canonised Castellani as ‘the Father of Minimalism’.
However, where Fontana and other members of the ZERO group were focussed on conscious destruction through slashing and burning, and Manzoni allowed his Kaolin soaked canvases to dry of their own accord, leaving the final aesthetic effect more up to chance, Castellani was highly assiduous and diligent in his artistic endeavours. This work is a stunning example of the ways that his oscillating effects of light and shade change and modulate with regard to their immediate environment, engaging in a unique dialogue within their surrounding space, and affecting endless spatial experiences. The rhythmic punctuating peaks of Superficie Bianca consummately evoke this almost vertiginous visual phenomenon; they invite the viewer to consider a boundless spatial dimension and become an active partaker in Castellani’s ardent pursuit of the absolute.
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