Lot 30
  • 30

Enrico Castellani

900,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Enrico Castellani
  • Superficie Bianca
  • signed, titled and dated 1980 on the overlap
  • acrylic on shaped canvas
  • 150 by 200 by 5.5 cm. 59 by 79 by 2 1/4 in.
  • Executed in 1979.


Acquired from the artist by the present owner in 1979.


Modena, Galleria Emilio Mazzoli, Enrico Castellani, July – September  1979

Lecco, Galleria Giuli, Enrico Castellani, 1980


Renata Wirz and Federico Sardella, Enrico Castellani, Catalogo Ragionato, Opere 1955-2005, Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 447, no. 466, illustrated


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is 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

Part of the acclaimed collection of Paolo and Alida Giuli, Superficie Bianco is testament to the visionary eye of these prominent Italian tastemakers. With its sumptuously rhythmic pattern of miniature peaks and elegant monochromatic surface, Superficie Bianca represents the profound explorations of space and form that were at the very forefront of primary artistic concerns in the 1960s, and which are at the centre of Enrico Castellani’s influential oeuvre. A seminal figure in post-war European art-history, Enrico Castellani has redefined our understanding of painting through an extensive exploration of its physical space. In dialogue with his European contemporaries, but also with American artists such as Donald Judd and Frank Stella, Castellani was one of the key artists who blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and radically redefined our understanding of medium specificity.

Composing his flawless white canvases with a sequential pattern of nails using a nail gun, Castellani created a progression of negative and positive poles, a rhythmically undulating relief suffused by a dynamic interplay of light and dark. Appropriating an almost sculptural language the artist achieved an illusionary effect traditionally created through painted chiaroscuro. Freed from the constraints of representation Superficie Bianca encourages the viewer to look beyond the picture plane and posit their own ideals and theories onto a 'blank' canvas. Castellani outlined his overarching concern to forge a distinct artistic dialect devoid of all traditional chromatic and figurative implications by explaining: "For me, the question is that of creating a totally white surface outside any pictorial phenomenon, any intervention extraneous to the value of the surface: this is a white surface that is a white surface and nothing else. With the ‘lines’ there is not even the possible ambiguity of the picture: the line extends only in length, it runs to infinity, the only dimension of time… There is nothing to say: one can only be"(Enrico Castellani cited in: Exh. Cat., Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani, 2001, p. 45). 

In its purity of form, Superficie Bianco reflects the primary concerns 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 among 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 representation, ZERO artists employed light and motion as a means to radicalise artistic expression. Pure colour and light was seen as the essence of cosmic power and became synonymous with the spiritual liberation of the individual. Castellani and his contemporary Piero Manzoni, founders of the legendary Galleria Azimuth and Azimuth journal, were at the very forefront of this radical artistic redefinition. With a practice centred on the monochrome canvas, the artists were closely aligned in their means of expression and medium. Through a subtle moulding of the canvas they highlighted the surface as the essence of the artwork and asserted its individual materiality and objectivity. Moreover, Castellani embraced the conceptual possibility of a rational progression. As the oscillating effects of his intricate protrusions change with each alternation in light and viewpoint, his Superficie are instilled with a life of their own.

A lyrical coalition of the primary principles of Castellani’s idiosyncratic Superficie, the present work is a consummate example of this revolutionary corpus and a highlight of the esteemed collection of Paolo and Alida Giuli.