Lot 13
  • 13

Enrico Castellani

1,200,000 - 1,600,000 GBP
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  • Enrico Castellani
  • Superficie bianca
  • acrylic on shaped canvas
  • 180 by 320 by 5.5 cm. 70 7/8 by 126 by 2 1/8 in.
  • Executed in 1967.


Sale: Brerarte Milan, 1981

Acquired from the above sale by the present owner


Foligno, Palazzo Trinci, Lo spazio dell’immagine, 1967


Achille Mauri, Ed., Enrico Castellani Pittore, Milan 1968, n.p., illustrated

Exh. Cat., Parma, Università di Parma, Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione, Enrico Castellani, 1976, pp. 63 and 64, illustrated

Exh. Cat., Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Museé national d’art modern, Identité italienne, L'art en Italie depuis 1959, June – September 1981, p. 200, illustrated

Exh. Cat., Pistoia, Palazzo Fabroni, Enrico Castellani, June – August 1996, p. 125, illustrated

Exh. Cat., Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani 1958-1970, April – June 2001, p. 241, illustrated

Giovanni Maria Accame, Figure Astratte: Esperienze internazionali della pittura aniconica, Rome 2001, p. 83, illustrated

Exh. Cat., New York, Haunch of Venison, Enrico Castellani, May – June 2009, n.p., no. 22, illustrated

Exh. Cat., Foligno, Centro Italiano Arte Contemporanea, Spazio Tempo Immagine, November 2009 – January 2010, p. 63, illustrated

Renata Wirz and Federico Sardella, Enrico Castellani, Catalogo ragionato Opere 1955-2005, Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 381, no. 243, illustrated


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly brighter in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"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

Enrico Castellani’s career reached a crescendo in 1967 with his ground-breaking installation piece Ambiente Bianco (White Environment). Created for the legendary Lo spazio dell’immagine – an ambitious show that took place in the Renaissance environs of Palazzo Trinci in Foligno during the summer of ’67 – Ambiente Bianco presented an immersive pure-white environment entirely enclosed by Castellani’s inimitable Superficie canvases. Dismantled after the four-month exhibit came to an end and reportedly destroyed thereafter, the present work is the only remaining piece of this historic installation to have survived. Spanning an impressive 3 meters in length and having comprised one of the key panels of Castellani’s architectonic painting, the present work is invested with far more import than its identikit title suggests. Hidden away since its landmark debut in 1967, the survival and revered history of Superficie Bianca mark it as an artwork of utmost importance and rarity.

Lo spazio dell’immagine heralded a pivotal moment in the development of the post-war avant-garde, not only in Europe, but also across the globe. Comprising a suite of 19 site-specific environments created by the most prevalent names in contemporary European art, this exhibition telescoped the pioneering dialogue between image and space. Alongside Castellani, Paolo Scheggi, Agostino Bonalumi, Pino Pascali, and Michelangelo Pistoletto among others, created a host of immersive works that explored the space of ‘painting’ itself. As pioneered by a handful of first generation post-war artists – Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, and Yves Klein to name a few – no longer was painting to be considered a product of ego-driven musings or angst-ridden eruptions onto canvas (qualities that helped define Abstract Expressionism of Arte Informel), instead, painting became a vehicle to explore an entirely new spatial dimension. Indebted to Fontana’s Spatialism, artists such as Castellani engendered a newly controlled and meditative painterly approach; disregarding illusion and mark-making entirely, these new painting-objects exploited the physical space inherent to the canvas-stretcher itself. Herein, Castellani’s now iconic and inimitable body of Superficie – works that first emerged in their nascent form in 1959 epitomised this new artistic direction completely. Creating light and shadow through surface manipulation alone, these works are characterised by a mathematical grid of positive and negative protrusions made with the assistance of a nail gun and a specially constructed stretcher. With the Ambiente Bianco however, Castellani took this premise and stretched it to its very limit.

More so than the other environments exhibited in the Foligno show, Castellani’s installation was akin to an experience of painting in the round. No doubt inspired by Fontana’s 1966 Biennale exhibition, in which a host of large white canvases each harbouring a single vertical slash were installed in an oval room, Castellani’s Ambiente adopted the purity of white monochrome to best express painterly silence: in white, Castellani, like Fontana before him, identified the very primitive state of the canvas; white is the prototype for nothingness and primitive expression for the void. Envisioned as a three-dimensional and immersive space, Castellani invited the sublime space posited by the white monochrome into three-dimensional space of every-day existence. To quote the much revered curator and art historian Germano Celant speaking on Ambiente Bianco: “Thus is the discourse of painting renewed, that is no longer framed by the context, but frames the context itself, concretizing an object capable of containing the viewer and achieving an inclusive self-determination” (Germano Celant, ‘Behind the Picture: Enrico Castellani’, in: Exh. Cat., Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani, 2001, p. 18). As an ensemble this environment juxtaposed the distortive spatiality of his curving corner-pieces (the Angolare), with the infinite modulation of the Superficie’s protrusions and hollows to create an overarching spatial vision that encroaches upon the space of our own physical existence. With Ambiente Bianco the painted surface burst from of its constraints; instead of a depiction of space Castallani’s painting-environment defined space, and in so doing revolutionised an approach to art-making that chimed with a burgeoning thrust of artistic practice that had begun to gather international momentum. Aligned with art practioners from Joseph Beuys through to Walter De Maria, the situational and the environmental became the radical new frontier for art, and with Ambiente Bianco Castellani stood at the vanguard of an enlarged remit for the traditional art of painting.