In 1963, the artist presented his works in Asia for the first time at Punto 5 exhibition in Taipei, and held his first Asian solo exhibition in Tokyo in 1969, thus developing a deep-rooted connection with Asia. His works, minimalist in both color and form, have for decades been perceived to be demonstrative of Eastern notions of Zen. In 2015, a joint exhibition was hosted at Lorenzelli Arte, Milan for Castellani and Lee Ufan titled Surfaces and Correspondences. The exhibition explored minimalism and eastern notions of Zen through the dialogue found between the works of the two masters of the East and West.
While part of a private European collection since 1993, the present Superficie Bianca (Lot 1037) presented in this season's Evening Sale was featured in the Surfaces and Correspondences exhibition and subsequently shown at The Armory Show, New York. Offered at auction for the first time, the work will be presented on the same stage as Hsiao Chin's Inner Light (Lot 1036), reflecting the wonders of “Movimento Punto”. When compared with Mathieu's La Passion Retrouvée (Lot 1034), divergences between works from Italian and French artists is apparent. However, there becomes apparent a convergence between the philosophies of Zen and minimalism at an international level when the work is compared with Richard Lin's Painting February 1967 (Lot 1035). Viewed with Lalan’s La lune est voilée(Lot 1038), wide-ranging abstract rhythms produced by scientific rationality and humanistic perception can be identified. As creator of such works that are so fluid and flexible, Castellani's status as a key figure in the post-war art scene is certainly undeniable.
“When we are young our elders considered us to be heretics and iconoclasts. And they were right. But they were wrong to discredit us because we didn’t use their means and language. Now, if an activity exists in which you’re allowed and in fact expected to freely invent the most suitable techniques for conveying what you want to say, this is artistic activity.”
Excerpt from L’arte, la libertà
Castellani studied painting and sculpture at Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in 1952 and architecture at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Belgium in 1956. The same year, he returned to Italy and began his artistic career under the influence of masters of spatialism such as Fontana. Castellani’s early works were somewhat swayed by those of French and American abstract artists. Yet, as Abstract Expressionism’s mobility-driven and calligraphic style of work prevalent in the late 1950s reached a bottleneck, Castellani started to question this type of art in the 1960s and began developing a unique artistic language. He customized round-edged nails to alter the shape of the canvas through creating convex or concave forms; thus, generating a breakthrough in the Western tradition of painting on flat planes. Created with one single colour, his paintings depict profound elegance and grace through use of light and changes in illumination. His Superficie series came about as a result of developing this technique, establishing Castellani as a rising star of the arts.
Superficie Bianca is dotted with nails that deconstruct the canvas surface to becoming representative of squares on a checkerboard. The structural layout is reflective of Castellani’s earlier studies in architecture, and displays influence from works of master of geometric abstraction Piet Mondrian. The work places emphasis on the use of point and is a move away from the use of line found in the geometric oeuvre. The piece further alters the tradition of producing works on a flat plane, representative of the creation of form in a sculptural painting. Constructed this way, the work reveals the thorough deconstruction and reinterpretation of the Western artistic fundamental concepts of point, line, plane and form. His monochromatic use of acrylic paint on one hand embodies the rise of Milan in post-war industrialization, and on the other hand, as the artist himself expressed in Azimuth magazine: “Through the monochrome surfaces of these works, I try to capture the concreteness of infinity”. Such an understanding is aligned with that of “Movimento Punto”, which expresses “to understand the condition of the finite in the infinite”. “Movimento Punto” deliberates point as a symbol representing “the spirit of contemplation”. Striking knives through his canvases, Fontana, master of spatialism and a strong advocate of “Movimento Punto”, overthrew the tradition of Western art. With such strong affiliations with that proposed by Castellani, it is plain to see how sparks were formed between the two artists; with far-reaching implications for not only their personal artistic development, but also for that of the entire art scene.
Castellani remained active in the 21st Century, most prominently hosting solo exhibitions at Fondazione Prada, Milan, 2001, Cambridge University, 2002, and Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 2005. In 2010, Castellani became the first Italian artist to be awarded Praemium Imperiale by the Japanese Royal Family, a recognition of achievement matched with those of other artistic master awardees such De Kooning (1989), Suraki (1992), Zao Wou-Ki (1994), Richter (1997) and Kusama (2006). Castellani’s early works have always been well-received, with white works being particularly sought after. Prices achieved for works comparable in size have remained stable near a figure of HKD3,000,000. Offered at auction for the first time, this is certainly to be a rare and wonderful opening to acquire the well-exhibited Superficie Bianca.
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