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    Sale 7618

    The Italian Sale

    20 October 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 113

    Enrico Castellani (b. 1930)

    Superficie bianca

    Price Realised  


    Enrico Castellani (b. 1930)
    Superficie bianca
    signed, titled and dated 'Enrico Castellani-Superficie Bianca-1968' (on the stretcher)
    oil on shaped canvas
    57 3/8 x 71 1/8in. (145.5 x 180.7cm.)
    Executed in 1968

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    This work is registered in the Archivio Enrico Castellani, Milan, under no. 68-010.

    Enrico Castellani is often credited as being one of the most important exponents of minimalist art, whose work instigated a radical re-evaluation of pictorial practice. Executed in 1968, Superficie bianca represents Castellani's radical departure from all chromatic, figurative and autobiographical implications in painting, in order to assert the canvas as a self-expressing entity that represents nothing, but simply exists. The technique Castellani evolved to achieve this level of objective autonomy was essentially one of spatially distorting the surface of the painting, by stretching it over a systematically prepared relief background of nails. The sequence of protrusions that
    form Superficie bianca's pattern of descending chevrons transform
    its pure white surface into an arena of play between light and shade,
    positive and negative depth.

    As in the Achromes of his friend and colleague Piero Manzoni, Superficie bianca's blank canvas is not merely two-dimensional but has been given a sculptural quality. However, where Manzoni used slow-setting kaolin on his canvases, allowing the process of setting to change the shape and appearance of the work, Castellani uses the impersonal mathematics of a preordained pattern to deny the possibility of a specific, personal subject matter. In doing so, Castellani sought to establish a self-reliant artform 'reduced to the semanticity of its own language' (cited in G. Clement, Enrico Castellani 1958-1970, Milan, 2001, p. 43). This concern for the most fundamental aspects of painting was first voiced in the journal Azimuth, which Castellani had founded with Piero Manzoni in Milan in 1959. 'For the artist', Castellani asserted, 'the need to find new modes of expression is animated by the need for the absolute. To meet this requirement, the only possible compositional criterion is that through the possession of an elementary entity - a line, an indefinitely repeatable rhythm and a monochrome surface - it is necessary to give the works themselves the concreteness of infinity that may undergo the conjugation of time, the only comprehensible dimension and the yardstick and the justification of our spiritual needs' (Enrico Castellani, 'Continuitá e nuovo', in Azimuth no. 2, Milan, 1960). This sense of infinity was intrinsic to Castellani's use of monochrome surfaces, which he felt established a limitless and dynamic field that manages through its own non-specificity to become universal. The severe asceticism of works like Superficie bianca therefore swept away any hint of the romantic sensibility and existential angst of the prevailing Arte Informel to establish a timeless, iconoclastic art that does not presume to convey any message other than the pure structure of its form.

    Special Notice

    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.
    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


    Galleria dell'Ariete, Milan.

    Pre-Lot Text

    From the moment of its inception in 1955 until it closed its doors over twenty five years later, Beatrice Monti della Corte's Galleria dell'Ariete was ranked as one of the most important and progressive art galleries in Italy. At only twenty-five years old, the young and glamorous Beatrice Monti took over the Galleria del Sole situated within a beautiful late eighteenth century building on via San Andrea in Milan, reinventing the already established gallery to reflect her own vision and tastes. It was at this time that Milan was in the ascendant as one of the most important centres of contemporary art in Italy, where avant-garde art movements were both welcomed and propagated. From the outset, Beatrice Monti trusted her own discerning eye and personal judgement, attracting to her stable those artist's who could be considered part of the new, emerging vanguard. The reputation of the Galleria dell'Ariete grew rapidly, forging particularly strong links with New York and London that naturally lead to it becoming a point of call for the international art world.

    The gallery opening in October 1955 with an exhibition of etchings and lithographs by Picasso, producing a catalogue with an extensive introduction by Tristian Tzara, a friend from Beatrice's regular trips and explorations to Paris. Her varied interests meant she showed a range of works, but her central idea was to concentrate on those living artists whose work she admired and who were approximately her own age. The distinguished critics Michel Tapié and Herbert Read were also counted upon as close friends and allies, and would prove invaluable in supporting her decisions as a gallery director, often accompanying her on studio visits in London and Paris to secure new artists. Tapié and Read would also participate in the international jury for the Premio dell'Ariete in 1959, alongside Franco Russoli, Ennio Morlotti and Antonio Tápies, awarding the substantial two million lire prize to Alberto Burri, which caused a scandal in the press.

    Beatrice Monti's awareness quickly expanded to embrace other emerging European and American art centres, and by the time of Karel Appel's exhibition in 1956, the Galleria dell'Ariete was firmly established as a leading place of the avant-garde in the minds of collectors, museum and gallery personnel, artists and writers. Appel's group of paintings were produced whilst he spent a three-month sojourn on Capri, staying in a house belonging to Beatrice Monti's father, which was situated near an old convent that had been converted into a studio for him to work. The gallery purchased all the paintings and provided all of his materials as well as a stipend for living costs. This generous act of sponsorship was occasionally extended to other artists, including Anthony Caro, Richard Smith and Barry Flanagan and set a precedent for Beatrice Monti's most recent incarnation as a literary patron hosting celebrated writers at her Tuscan retreat, Santa Maddalena.

    More than any other European gallery at the time, Beatrice Monti showed a constructive and generous interest in the work of English painters and sculptors. Her Bacon show took place as early as 1958, and was followed by exhibitions of artists such as Caro, Hoyland, Flanagan and Hockney, all of whom were among the most innovative of those working in London at what was a conspicuously strong period in British art. Within the first half dozen years or so, the Galleria dell'Ariete proudly listed as diverse a group as Lucio Fontana, Antoni Tápies, Sam Francis, Henry Michaux, Enrico Castellani, Piero Manzoni, Robert Rauschenberg, Francis Bacon and Mark Tobey amongst its many artists.

    The Galleria dell'Ariete was amongst the first Italian galleries to take an active interest in contemporary American art, a role that would perhaps be considered as its most important and lasting cultural contribution. Not only did Beatrice spend long periods of time in the United States, but by the early 1960s her reputation and business savvy had succeeded in establishing personal and professional relationships with U.S. dealers such as Betty Parsons, Sidney Janis, Paula Cooper and especially Leo Castelli with whom she collaborated a lot.
    Beatrice Monti also befriended artists like Kenneth Noland, Barnett Newman and Cy Twombly as well as 'that beautiful, brilliant couple', Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns (Cooper cited in A. Mar, 'The Baronessa's Dream', New York Magazine, Nov. 26, 2006). These valuable connections, coupled with her legendary prescience led Beatrice to stage the first exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg's art in Italy, just prior to his participation in the 1964 Biennale, at which he won the International Prize for painting. Her trips to the United States also enabled her to stage the exhibition Eleven Americans in 1960, a groundbreaking event that offered the first real and comprehensive view of American art in Italy and which would have a significant impact on the nation's art world. The show paraphrased a sequence of seminal shows devised by Dorothy Miller at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and featured the paintings of Rothko, Francis, Guston, Kline, de Kooning, Pollock and Gottlieb. Eleven Americans was followed two years later by The Great Occasion of American Painting', which provided an even broader coverage of the rich and varied culture of American painting at the time, extending beyond abstract expressionism into colour-field painting and including isolated figures like Gorky, Nevelson and Tomlin.

    In the wake of Rauschenberg's success at the Venice Biennale in 1964, both his work and that of many of her artists began to command high prices, yet Beatrice Monti was able to retain her independence during this period of rising costs by attracting a wide range of collectors. These included Agnelli and Cavellini in Italy, Florence Barron, Robert and Ethel Scull, Joseph Pulitzer Junior and a number of other major collectors from the United States as well as important institutions such as the Galleria dell'Arte Moderna in Rome, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. As the reputation of the Galleria dell'Ariete spread, it became a great focal point for the gatherings of artists and writers, especially during the Venice Biennales, when many of the painters and sculptors represented by Beatrice Monti were among those exhibiting.

    In 1970, the business was extended with the Ariete Grafica, a small space within the same via San Andrea courtyard, which commissioned editions of prints and showed drawing by artists who exhibited at the main gallery, adding to the special character and originality of the operation. Monti closed the Gallerie dell'Ariete as an exhibition space in 1977, but it is remembered as an unusually cultivated and sophisticated venue for art whose exhibitions played an influential role on both sides of the Atlantic in introducing an Italian audience to American art and, conversely, to help raise the awareness of Italian art in the United States.
    In 1998 Beatrice Monti turned her private residence home in Tuscany into a retreat for writers and botanists. Located outside the village of Donnini (Florence), the Santa Maddalena Foundation was established in honour of the great novelist Gregor von Rezzori, Beatrice's husband, to welcome celebrated writers and offer them the opportunity to work in a peaceful and inspiring atmosphere and explore the relationship between humanity and the natural world. Its past fellows include great names such as Zadie Smith, Anita Desai, Colim Toibin and Edmund White. When Beatrice Monti and Gregor von Rezzori discovered Santa Maddalena in 1967 it was more or less a ruin, however, now under her guidance the Tuscan farmhouse has become a splendid international writers' colony full of remembrances and works of art, an irresistible place to work where intellectuals tend to return again and again.



    Enrico Castellani, exh. cat., Parma, Universitá di Parma-Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione, 1976, no. 87 (illustrated, unpaged).
    Enrico Castellani, exh. cat., Trento, Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea, 1999, no. 43 (illustrated, p. 69).
    Enrico Castellani, exh. cat., Milan, Fondazione Prada, 2001 (illustrated, p. 329).


    Pistoia, Palazzo Fabroni Arti Visive Contemporanee, Enrico Castellani, May-July 1996 (illustrated on the cover).
    Rome, Studio Sotis, Voci. 1958 Roma 1968, November 1998-February 1999 (illustrated, unpaged).