56
56

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ITALIAN COLLECTION

Alberto Burri
LEGNO
JUMP TO LOT
56

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ITALIAN COLLECTION

Alberto Burri
LEGNO
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
London

Alberto Burri
1915 - 1995
LEGNO
signed and dated 58 on the reverse
wood, acrylic and combustion on canvas
50.5 by 102.6 cm. 19 7/8 by 40 3/8 in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

The Artist
Private Collection, Rome
Galleria Ruggerini e Zonca, Milan
Galleria Tega, Milan
Corrado Rava, Rome
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the late 1990s

Exhibited

Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Pasadena, Pasadena Art Museum, Alberto Burri, October 1963 - September 1964, n.p., no. 35 (text) 
Portland, Portland Art Museum, Masterworks in Wood: The Twentieth Century, September - October 1975, n.p., no. 13, illustrated
Milan, Ruggerini & Zonca Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Astrazione Informale Segno, May - June 1991, n.p., no. 3, illustrated in colour
Milan, Zonca & Zonca Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Alberto Burri 1948-1993, October - December 1998, p. 51, no. 14, illustrated in colour 

Literature

Cesare Brandi and Vittorio Rubiu, Contributo al Catalogo Generale, Rome 1963, p. 213, no. 275, illustrated
Maurizio Fagiolo Dell’Arco, Le Arti oggi in Italia, Rome 1966, p. 70
Maurizio Calvesi, Alberto Burri, Milan 1971, p. 130, no. 24, illustrated
Nemo Sarteanesi, Burri: Contributi al Catalogo Sistematico, Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Città del Castello 1990, p. 151, no. 623, illustrated in colour
Bruno Corà, Ed., Alberto Burri, General Catalogue, Painting, 1958-1978, Città di Castello 2015, pp. 30 (Vol. II) and 122 (Vol. VI), no. 710, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

"Burri's poetic is resolved in a radical stripping of primary psychical structures... directly from a meeting on a psychological level of vital, primordial unconscious tendencies; a play of forces that could also take him back to the wider scope of the basic conflict between the forces of the instinct and the responsible consciousness of the ego."

Maurizio Calvesi, Le due avanguardie: Dal Futurismo alla Pop Art, Milan 1966, pp. 228-229

Created by the immensely influential Alberto Burri in 1958, Legno comes from the celebrated series of Legni initiated by the Italian artist in 1955. The work is composed of partially combusted wood overlaid on canvas, and powerfully embodies Burri’s ground-breaking artistic explorations which championed industrial and quotidian materials over conventional artist’s tools. A key proponent of the ensuing Arte Povera movement that would take Italy by storm in the late 1960s, Burri boldly relinquished traditional mediums, opting instead to experiment with everyday materials that spoke more pertinently to the modern world he lived in: in place of canvas and paint, burlap, wood, fire, plastic and metal would become the predominant instruments of his labour. Asymmetrical in composition, with a charred surface and coarse texture, the present work poignantly foreshadows the fundamental precepts of Arte Povera. Legno appeared early on in a number of museum shows, and was first displayed in Burri’s significant travelling solo-exhibition of 1963, Alberto Burri, which debuted at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. The work accompanies some of the greatest of Burri's combusted works held in museum collections worldwide, and is directly comparable to examples in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, Harvard University’s Fogg Museum in Cambridge Massachusetts, and the Burri Foundation in Perugia. Characterised by its pioneering use of red acrylic paint, the present work anticipates the artist’s focus on molten red plastic in the 1960s, which would become one of his principle and most renowned mediums.

From the late 1940s onwards, Burri looked to the limitless potential of materiality as a vehicle for artistic expression by subversively employing matter as the subject for his paintings. Having previously gained recognition for his Sacchi works of coarsely stitched burlap, Legno offers a remarkably resolved example of Burri’s earliest commitment to combustion as an artistic procedure that would prove to yield the most dynamic and celebrated examples of his opus. Famously reserved on the hermeneutics of his own esoteric artworks, Burri preferred to afford critics and art historians with a considerable freedom of analysis, invoking a host of multivalent interpretations across the rich ground of his oeuvre, many of which revolve around the artist’s own biography. Born in 1915 in Città di Castello, a small town in the Umbria region of Italy, Burri initially trained as a doctor. He received his medical degree in 1940, and served in the Ethiopian campaign during World War II, first as a frontline soldier and then as a physician. In 1943, Burri was captured in Tunisia and sent to an American Prisoner of War camp, where he was detained until 1945. Burri took up painting during his incarceration and, disillusioned by the senseless brutality of war, was never to practice medicine again.

Rendered from materials including scorched wood, stitched burlap sacking, and gaping apertures of molten plastic, Burri’s work often appears distinctly biological, even surgical, in nature. As the eminent curator James Johnson Sweeney has remarked, "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.). Indeed, operating on the threshold between art and life, the present work seems at once to allude to an existential, living body which has been lacerated and tortured by the atrocities of war, whilst simultaneously opening up the realm of the real through its self-referential physicality. The dynamic play of naturally occurring wood rings, splintered grooves, and two burnt-out voids implores the viewer to scan the surface of the work as they would an eviscerated landscape, taking in the violence and pathos redolent in the scorched wood and the blood red acrylic paint that have been subjected to the elemental destructivity of fire. Engaging with the principles of Art Informel, the present work conveys an impalpable sense of emotion and angst that can be "expressed but not described" (Carolyn Christov-Bakargriev, 'Alberto Burri: The surface at Risk', in: Exh. Cat., Rome, Palazzo delle Espozioni, Burri: 1915-1995 Retrospektive, 1997, p. 79). In stimulating a mental and physical engagement with the viewer, Legno stands as a work of pivotal innovation within Burri’s highly acclaimed oeuvre.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
London