Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Enrico Castellani
1930 - 2017
signed, titled and dated 2001 on the overlap
acrylic on shaped canvas
180 by 180 cm. 70 7/8 by 70 7/8 in.
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This work is registered in the Archivio Castellani, Milan, under the number 01-023 and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.


Acquired directly from the artist by the family of the present owner circa 2001-02


Ozzano Monferrato, Borromini Arte Contemporanea, Enrico Castellani: La visione del pensiero, 2002, n.p., illustrated


Renata Wirz and Federico Sardella, Enrico Castellani: Catalogo ragionato, Tomo secondo, Opere 1955-2005, Milan 2012, p. 562, no. 909, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Enrico Castellani’s magnificent Superficie Bianca radiates spellbinding purity as a paradigm of both elegance and profound artistic innovation. At the intersection between painting, sculpture and architecture, the present work powerfully communicates the possibilities of the canvas’ physical dimensionality. Here Castellani’s planar, geometric abstraction exhibits a uniform proliferation of minute protrusions intrinsic to the Superfici series. Castellani’s radical pictorial dialogue of ‘non-painting’ offered a crucial contribution to the Arte Povera movement in Italy as well as the aesthetic concerns of ZERO artists such as Lucio Fontana, Otto Piene, Heinz Mack and Yves Klein, all of whom sought to employ pure light and motion as a means to transform and revolutionise artistic expression. However, Castellani’s cosmic, almost spiritual protrusions stand out from this wider group in their mesmerising visual impact and dynamic challenge to the confines of traditional painting.

Executed in 2001, Superficie Bianca illuminates Castellani’s visual negotiation of space, depth, light and dark, as well as his transcendent work in monochrome. Through its measured hollows and reductive surface, the present work is both deeply expressive and meditative. To quote a passage by art historian Elena Pontiggia written specifically about this piece: “Looking at a work by Castellani is like looking at a Zen garden. In Kyoto there are gardens of stone whose profound attraction stems from the thoughts they stimulate rather than from any exterior ornament. There are no flowers, vegetation or plants: there is just a theory of small white, regular points, a dotting of pebbles from which a rough stone emerges. What do people who look at the gardens of Saomi see? Nothing and everything. One’s vision immediately becomes thought and thought loses itself in silence... Likewise, in Castellani’s punctuations vision becomes thought” (Elena Pontiggia cited in: Exh. Cat., Milan, Borromini Artecontemporanea, Enrico Castellani, 2002, n.p.).

The artist’s rippling pattern of miniature peaks was achieved through a meticulous technique in which he hammered nails into the canvas via an entrenched stretcher in alternating directions. The hollows and pointed protuberances created a rhythmic relief suffused with passages of light and dark; thus, by appropriating a thoroughly sculptural aesthetic language, Castellani achieved the illusionary effect usually associated with traditional Italian chiaroscuro. This radical new image-making process manifested an extreme sense of self-realisation for Castellani, which was “brought about by acting upon the materials deposited on a surface or in a volume… of discovering a new synthesis through which the annihilation of the gesture and the individual’s passionate involvement should result in the annihilation of the individual himself, in order to construct, in the continuity of the work, a premise of rebirth in a new dimension” (Germano Celant cited in: Exh. Cat., Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani, 2001, p. 10). Here Castellani powerfully exchanges gesture for a dynamic interplay of light and dark, producing an exquisite range of effects that alternate, modify and oscillate depending on the viewer’s position and external lighting. The painting itself seems to become a living entity as shadows and reflections dance across its surface in an exchange that flattens, highlights and illuminates Castellani’s spectacular reliefs. Again, Pontiggia articulates this kinetic sense of richness and breathing vitality that resonates from the present work: “His works… concentrate on a form of progression that gives rise to a feeling of becoming. The canvas secrets a slow movement, a sort of breathing that becomes light. In that case, a phrase by Pietro Manzoni… could perhaps be used as a single caption for all the work by this artist: ‘There is nothing to say: There is only being; there is only living’”(Elena Pontiggia, op. cit., n.p.).

Contemporary Art Evening Auction