Burri made works in miniature from the 1950s onwards, originally intended as Christmas presents for James Johnson Sweeney – director of the Guggenheim museum and his biggest American fan. They were, at first, a means by which Burri the artist was able to get his ideas out across the globe during a time when his fragile large-scale works were far more difficult and expensive to ship. However, they developed into a highly prized tranche of his oeuvre. Burri’s miniatures returned to the Guggenheim museum in 2015, when they formed a prominent part of a widely critically acclaimed retrospective dedicated to his work. For critic Blake Gopnik, they revealed Burri’s forensic approach to art making, which ran in direct contravention to contemporaneous American painters like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, who favoured spontaneous gesture and touch above all. For Gopnik the miniatures were the highlight of the exhibition: “Not only are the miniatures my favourite thing in the entire show, but they transform how we need to read their larger avatars… They become the lab notes for experiments that Burri has run, and we can understand the experiment equally well whether the notes are in a tiny Moleskin or copied out big on a blackboard” (Blake Gopnik, “At the Guggenheim, Alberto Burri Goes All Duchamp,” Artnet News, 10 December 2015).
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