Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Enrico Castellani
B. 1930
signed, titled, dated 1998 and dedicated on the overlap 
acrylic on shaped canvas
170 by 100 cm. 66 7/8 by 39 3/8 in.
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Plinio de Martiis, Rome

Netta Vespignani, Rome

Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2000


Renata Wirz and Federico Sardella, Enrico Castellani: Catalogo Ragionato, Opere 1955-2005, Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 551, no. 871, illustrated


Hailed by Donald Judd as ‘the father of minimalism’, Enrico Castellani occupies a position of utmost significance in the history of abstraction in the later Twentieth Century. In 1959 he landed upon a formally sparse and radical approach to painting on canvas that would sustain and occupy his practice for the next fifty years and beyond. Entitled the Superficie, Castellani developed a canon of monochrome painting in which the canvas support became the determining factor in establishing light and shade – the keystones of illusion in two-dimensions. Spurning any concession to figurative representation however, these works refer only to themselves and pioneered an ascetic visual dialogue that set a precedent for the burgeoning minimalist movement in the US. As deftly evinced by the present work – an exquisite monochrome painting articulated in a delicate shade of pink – these iconic canvases scrutinise the boundary between the work of art and the viewer as they project out into the ambient space that exists between the two.

Castellani’s praxis is based upon his trademark geometric schemas of hollows and pointed protuberances, created through hammering nails into his canvas in alternating directions according to a prescribed design. The patterns of light and shadow engendered by these introflections and extroflections ignite an ever-changing chain of motion as the viewer modifies their angle of consideration. Thus Castellani creates a work not only in space but also in time. In his own words: “an indefinitely repeatable rhythm of monochrome surface is necessary to give the works the concreteness of the infinite and subject them to the influence of time” (Enrico Castellani cited in: Germano Celant, Enrico Castellani 1958-1970, Milan 2001, p. 43). Towering in undulating waves of rose-pink, Superficie Rosa espouses this seemingly infinite potential for mutable spatial encounters. Chiming with Donald Judd’s mature work some years later, Castellani's first Superficie invited the viewer not only to scrutinise the space of the work of art itself, but also the ambient space of their surrounding environments. In this regard, changes in lighting impart an almost distortive and vertiginous effect that borders concurrent developments in Op art as pioneered by Bridget Riley during the early 1960s. Significantly however, the two-dimensional sculpturality of Castellani’s work ruptures any notion of illusion as associated with the tradition of flat painting; instead the pictorial composition and variation between light and dark is dependent upon the use of a nail gun and the effect of external lighting. Castellani’s ‘paintings of light’ thus produce exquisite effects that alternate and modify, and are imbued with an autonomy and life of their own through a dialogue with their external environment.

In the wake of the abstract gesture of Art Informel and the virile heroism of Abstract Expressionism, Castellani explored the reductivity of 'non-painting' as a means to access expression outside of representational tradition. Indebted to his artistic forebears and pioneers of a progressive painterly nihilism, latterly Piet Mondrian and contemporaneously Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, and Alberto Burri, Castellani looked to expose a phenomenological inner aesthetic language through a heightened dedication to the very elemental components of ‘painting’ itself. Superficie Rosa consummately embodies Castellani’s historic contribution to twentieth-century art history in provoking a tension between an art work’s immateriality and its environment; a radical dialogue that set the tone for Arte Povera and the pace for Minimalism during the late-1960s.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction