Lot 14
  • 14

Alberto Burri

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 GBP
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  • Alberto Burri
  • Rosso Plastica 5
  • plastic, acrylic, vinavil and combustion on canvas
  • 70 by 100 cm. 27 5/8 by 39 3/8 in.
  • Executed in 1962.


Galleria  La Tartaruga, Rome

Galleria d’Arte San Luca, Bologna

Johnny Dorelli, Rome

Private Collection, Rome

Galleria dello Scudo, Verona

Private Collection, Milan


London, Marlborough New London Gallery; New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Alberto Burri, October 1963 – February 1964, n.p., no. 8, illustrated

Tokyo, Keiô Department Store, Tokyo International Exhibition of Art, October 1966, p. 30, no. 73, illustrated

Venice, Giardini di Castello, XLVI Biennale di Venezia, Identità e alterità, figure del corpo 1895/1995 – Padiglione Italia, June – October 1995, pp. 510 and 518-519, no. 10, illustrated in colour


Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Burri Contributi al Catalogo Sistematico, Città di Castello 1990, p. 171, no. 718, illustrated in colour

Danna Battaglia Olgiati, ‘Introduzione alla mostra’, in: Fonte d'abisso arte, Ed., Eventualità : Burri, Colla, Consagra, Fontana, Kounellis, Leoncillo, Manzoni, Melotti, Scarpitta, Vedova, Milan 2002, p. 9, illustrated

Laura Tansini, ‘Esserci o non esserci’, in: Ars, No. 5-6, Rome, May - June 2002, p. 101, no. 10, illustrated in colour

Bruno Corà, Ed., Alberto Burri, Catalogo Generale, Pittura 1958-1978, Vol. II, Città di Castello 2015, p. 130, no. 939, illustrated in colour, Vol. VI p. 145, no. 6217, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate. 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

In Rosso Plastica 5 chromatic drama and visceral materiality strike an enchanting compositional balance. Executed in 1962, the present work embodies a supreme example of one of Alberto Burri’s most celebrated series, the Plastiche. Employing the destructive power of fire as a transformative tool, Burri created some of the most enthralling and ground-breaking works of the post-war period. In subversively appropriating matter as the subject of his painting from the late 1940s, Burri looked to the limitless potential of materiality as a vehicle to transcend the traditional notions of the two dimensional work of art.  Following his roughly sewn burlap works known as the Sacchi, his charred wooden Legni and his iron Ferri, his series of Plastiche form the pinnacle of his subversive re-evaluation of art. Both compositionally and chromatically, Rosso Plastica 5 ranks alongside the most resolved manifestations of this revered corpus, of which many are today housed in esteemed public and private collections, such as the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome; the Fondazione Burri in Perugia; the Prada Foundation, Milan and the Rachofsky Collection, Dallas.

In Rosso Plastica 5, scorched layers of red plastic and cavernous blackened voids guide the viewer's eye across an eviscerated landscape. Redolent of an existential but living body, lacerated and tortured in the wake of war's atrocities, Burri's gaping apertures of molten red plastic form a cathartic repost to the psycho-social wound of post-war Europe. As so poignantly analysed by legendary curator James Johnson Sweeney: "Burri transforms rags into a metaphor for bleeding human flesh, breathes fresh life into the inanimate materials which he employs, making them live and bleed; then heals the wounds with the same evocative ability and the same sensibility with which he first inflicted them.  What for Cubists would have been reduced to the partial distillation of a painted composition... in Burri's hands becomes a living organism: flesh and blood... The picture is human flesh, the artist a surgeon" (James Johnson Sweeney cited in: Exh. Cat., Rome, L'Obelisco, Burri, 1955, n.p.). Burri had trained as a surgeon before the war, herein these apparent biological and surgical comparisons are apt visualisations of the vicissitudes of the artist's biography. Having been captured by the allied troops and imprisoned in Hereford, Texas, Burri spent most of the Second World War in America. Thus, it wasn’t until he returned to Italy, in 1946, that he witnessed the abysmal destruction that conflict had inflicted upon his home country. Whole cities had been reduced to rubble, and thousands of people were left homeless and starving. The artist’s brother had been killed, and everything he had previously held dear and true was destroyed. It was through the violence and pathos redolent in the layers of molten plastic, scorched wood, and stitched burlap that he found an outlet to fathom the inconceivable horrors of the war.

The reductive and nihilistic tendencies at the core of Burri’s Plastiche invoke a similar mode of transfiguration to that of his contemporaries Lucio Fontana and Yves Klein. Fontana’s forceful puncturing and slashing through the surface of a pristine monochrome canvas furnished his unique Spatialist theorems of a further infinite dimension. Similarly, Yves Klein’s pursuit of a mystical and otherworldly infinite found its ultimate expression in the alchemical potential of fire: the theatrical command of an enormous fire hose brought forth a series of works in which fire's symbolic prima materia status and annihilative/sublimative force provided Klein with a definitive symbolic and spiritual expression of the void. Echoing Fontana and presaging Klein, Burri’s alchemical transformation has opened apertures onto a blackened void beyond the picture plane. Yet, contrary to harbouring a spiritual dimension or posing a metaphysical breach, Burri’s use of fire serves rather to heighten our knowledge of materials and explore the expressive potential inherent within the moment of a work’s creation.

Rosso Plastica 5’s dramatic landscape of combusted cavities and sweltering plastic evinces a powerful material destruction. While psychically reductive, the crater-like surface simultaneously evidences a physical act of regression via an operation of the tabula rasa. This drastic reduction, achieved via an agenda of minimal artistic intervention and exploited through the transformative nature of fire, divulges the primary nature of materiality. Herein the present work beautifully summates Burri's radical artistic expression, whereby the limitless potential of materiality became a vehicle for a radically new artistic expression.