Lot 8
  • 8

Salvatore Scarpitta

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Salvatore Scarpitta
  • Forager for Plankton
  • signed, titled and dated 1959 on the reverse
  • bandages and mixed media on canvas
  • 128 by 104 cm. 50 3/8 by 41 in.


Leo Castelli Gallery, New York

Galleria Notizie, Turin

Private Collection, Turin (acquired from the above in 1972)

Thence by descent to the present owners


Los Angeles, Dwan Gallery, Salvatore Scarpitta, 1961

Milan, Galleria dell’Ariete, Salvatore Scarpitta 1958–1963, 1964, no. 5

Turin, Galleria Notizie; and Brescia, Studio C, Salvatore Scarpitta, 1972, n.p., no. 4, illustrated

Radda, Castello di Volpaia, Salvatore Scarpitta, 1992, n.p., no. 6, illustrated

Bagheria, Civica Galleria Renato Guttuso, Scarpitta, 1999, p. 90, no. 49, illustrated in colour, p. 144, no. 49 (text)


Exh. Cat., Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Scarpitta, 1977, p. 19 (text)

Donna, July 1999, p. 18, illustrated

Luigi Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta, Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 2005, p. 172, no. 246, illustrated


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is brighter in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There is some evidence of dirt in places throughout, most notably to the overturn edges and in the folds. Close inspection reveals a few minute losses in isolated places, most notably one beneath the top fold approximately 8cm from the left edge and some minor paint lifting to the top of the third fold approximately 5cm from the left edge. There are a few spots that fluoresce darker under ultra-violet light, which upon close inspection do not appear to be retouchings.
"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

"Sometime between '54 and '58, after the birth of his daughter Lola, Salvatore took the bands of cloth used to swath the baby to his studio, and after having wrapped them around a wooden frame, he stiffened them with glue and painted them, monochrome, white or dark red, or blue, leaving gaps between the layers of the wrapping. These empty spaces were like open cuts, like wounds. These works impressed me for their originality and for their value as an extension of his experience as a painter: they represented the first case of a step forward after the provocation of Burri."

Piero Dorazio cited in: Luigi Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta. Catalogue raisonné, Milano 2005, p. 117.

Executed in 1959, the year of the artist's first solo exhibition, Extramurals, at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, Forager for Plankton dates from a seminal moment in Salvatore Scarpitta's noteworthy career. With its sculptural strands of crimson bandages, weighed down by sand and resin, the present work forms part of the artist's pioneering series of "torn" paintings, first initiated in Rome in 1957. In a radical re-appropriation of an age-old artistic medium, the canvas itself became the subject and central focus of these works. Highly paradigmatic of this drastic experimentation, its monumental scale and dramatic vibrancy make Forager for Plankton a true masterpiece of this revered and ambitious corpus. 

Forager for Plankton's masterful swathes of heavy corrugations are utterly mesmeric. Flanked by horizontal folds of deep crimson, a central row of measured apertures captures the viewer's gaze. With its lavish sculptural pleats of blazing red, the work harbours a dynamic energy. One can’t help but relate these vibrant undulations to the lavish drapery of Renaissance paintings, as they harbour a unique sculptural depth and opulence. Heavy with sand and resin these horizontal folds, ridges and peaks appear cemented in a state of material metamorphosis. Suspended between positive and negative the taut pleats are hardened into a dual affirmation of both substance and void.

Born in New York, the American-Italian artist travelled to Italy in 1937 to train as a painter. Two decades later and following his time as a "Monuments Man" during the Second World War, two critically acclaimed solo shows at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan and at the Galleria La Taratuga in Rome in 1957 marked his artistic breakthrough. A year later an introduction to Leo Castelli in Rome proved invaluable for Scarpitta's career, prompting the artist's return to New York in 1958.  He was quickly recruited into Castelli's fold and had his first solo show at the revered New York gallery in 1959. Castelli introduced Scarpitta to the likes of Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Mark Rothko and as the artist recalled when looking back on this time: "with Leo a great friendship was born, and a great, immediate interest in my work. Leo and I were like brothers" (Salvatore Scarpitta cited in: Exh. Cat., Castello di Volpaia, Salvatore Scarpitta, 1992, p. 14). Having been originally acquired from Leo Castelli, the provenance of the present work bears witness to this highly significant and fruitful relationship.

Scarpitta's radically ‘bandaged’ works signalled a new minimalistic approach to the canvas as a three-dimensional art object. No longer merely a surface upon which to paint, the stretcher became an armature around which swathes of rough canvas were wrapped as overlapping textural bandages. Alongside Alberto Burri, Scarpitta explored the autonomy of the art object and its materiality. Therein, presaging the Arte Povera movement of the following decade. Furthermore, Piero Manzoni's kaolin soaked works, bear a strong resemblance to Scarpitta's heavily impregnated canvases. Like many artists of the post-war generation, Scarpitta's artistic exploration was heavily influenced by his experience of the war. Similar to Burri's metaphorically torn and stitched Sacchi, the deep crimson bandages of Forager for Plankton are distinctly reminiscent of blood drenched medical dressings. However, in his destructive treatment of the traditionally flat surface of the canvas, Scarpitta is often compared most closely with Lucio Fontana. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that Fontana's first Spatial Concept was preceded by a visit to Scarpitta's studio in 1957. Piero Dorazio later wrote of this event: "when Fontana came to Rome I took him to Salvatore's studio... The next year I went to visit Fontana and his studio was full of canvases with the famous slashes, which could only have been suggested by the swathing bands of Scarpitta" (Piero Dorazio, 'For Salvatore Scarpitta', in: Exh. Cat., Arbur, Centro d'Arte Arbur, Scarpitta, 2000, pp. 61-62). Often underappreciated in relation to these post-war pioneers, Scarpitta's importance has been increasingly recognised in recent years, with a major solo exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Scultpure Garden, Washington in 2014 and an upcoming show at Luxembourg & Dayan, New York in October 2016.

Allied with the ground-breaking practices of the first generation of artists to emerge after the second world war, Forager for Plankton is a superlative example from one of the most innovative deviants to painterly convention.