is a gem-like distillation of Alberto Burri’s artistic impetus packed with all of the drama, trauma, intensity, and impact of his paradigm-shifting paintings. Burri only turned to art late in life having started as a doctor before enlisting at the start of World War II. He was captured early, and passed the majority of the conflict in relative comfort as a prisoner of war in Hereford, Texas, where he painted to pass the time. Upon return to his native Italy, he experienced the profound shock of a country and society in ruins. To return to life as it was before would have been impossible and pointless, even sacrilegious. So he dedicated to the rest of his life to art. Thus Burri made paintings with materials better suited to wartime than fine art: plastic, burlap, wood veneer, industrial staples. He imbued his works with a sense of violent damage and haphazard repair that echoed his medical beginnings: wooden slats are splintered and shattered before being haphazardly glued back together; burlap sacking is roughly stitched anew; holes violently burnt through canvas are hastily patched. His resultant paintings are cataclysmic essays in trauma, grief, and guilt that totally transformed the limits of painting as they were previously understood. All of this artistic impact is packed into the present richly varied miniature composition, which features a cracked and mottled patch of combustion, a passage of felt undoubtedly meant to replicate burlap sacking, and areas of adhesive, intimating that idiosyncratically Burri effect of damage and repair.
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).