• The Italian Sale  auction at Christies

    Sale 7757

    The Italian Sale

    16 October 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 29

    Alberto Burri (1915-1995)

    Combustione plastica

    Price Realised  


    Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
    Combustione plastica
    signed and dated 'Burri 66' (on the reverse)
    plastic, acrylic and vinyl combustion on Cellotex
    19¾ x 29½in. (50 x 75cm.)
    Executed in 1966

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    This work is registered in the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Città di Castello, under number 66.47.

    Looking at Combustione plastica, it is clear why Alberto Burri holds such a seminal position in the history of Italian artistic developments over the past half century. This work, created in 1966, takes the formerly-accepted guidelines and protocols of the artistic tradition which was so strong in Italy of all nations and turns it inside-out. Burri has taken cellophane, a deliberately humble material, and instead of using an additive artistic process, has burnt it. This is a far cry from the figurative oil-on-canvas: Burri has substituted transparent plastic for the support, and has replaced the act of painting with that of partial incineration, tapping into an aesthetic that chimed perfectly with the existential angst of Post-War Europe.

    This seeming act of destruction has resulted in the poetic crystallisation of a moment of flame within the body of the plastic itself. Burri explained that he had hoped to capture the image of fire in his work, and nowhere is this more in evidence than in the scorch and smoke marks of Combustione plastica. The fact that Burri took cellophane as his material in Combustione plastica reflects the extent to which it had already become near endemic in packaging by the time the work was created. For Burri, who constantly aimed to lend his selected materials a sense of self-contained objecthood that excluded any reference to the outside world, the choice of a substance that is both clear and is also used in conjunction with something else to wrap something while leaving it visible, marks an elevation of its status. Combustione plastica allows the plastic to take the centre-stage, not acting as the mere wrapping but being celebrated for its own properties, in its own right. That Burri has taken a transparent material is an assault on traditional notions of art, and this is augmented by the replacement of the traditional use of paint and brush by fire.

    It was in part because of the sense of autonomy with which Burri filled his works, in part because of his use of unusual and undervalued materials, and in part because of his replacement of traditional artistic skills with acts such as burning and stitching that Burri became such a crucial example to younger generations of artists both in Italy, for instance the Arte Povera movement, and in the United States. In works such as Combustione plastica, which discard the traditional constituent parts of painting, Burri's searing vision cut a swathe, as though he were slicing a Gordian Knot, through the art theories of the time, outmanoeuvring figuration, Abstract Expressionism and Pop alike.

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    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Galleria Cardi, Milan.
    Tornabuoni Galleria d'Arte Contemporanea, Milan.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004.

    Pre-Lot Text



    G. Serafini, Burri. Viaggio al termine della materia, Milan 2005, no. 41 (illustrated in colour, p. 113).