Christie’s is delighted to offer an important collection of works from a distinguished Italian collection with highlights by Enrico Castellani, Giuseppe Penone, and Pier Paolo Calzolari. Coming into prominence in the 1960s, these artists were part of a generation who sought to strip back art to its most basic principles in the aftermath of the Second World War. United by their use of dark monochrome tones, the artists’ colourless surfaces played a crucial role in the search for a new ground zero for painting and sculpture. By limiting their palettes in this way, they were able to emphasize the materiality of the canvas, allowing the previously unexplored elements of light and movement to redefine the picture plane. In Penone’s Pelle di grafite-riflesso di alurgite (2008) a vast black background is swathed in an intricate pattern of luminous convoluted lineation that reflects the light in an ephemeral array of patterns. The charcoal hue of Castellani’s Superfici Grafite (2007) provides the foundation for the artist’s three-dimensional explorations, while the mixed media assembled in Calzolari’s Untitled (1989) emphasize the purity of his natural elements, rendered in subdued tones of black and white. Along with their contemporaries – most notably Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni – these artists reinvigorated the Italian art scene during the Post-War period, paving the way for the international development of Minimalist and Conceptual art.
'The surface that defines the contact of our body with the real is the skin. The drawing of the skin, a skin of graphite' (G. Penone quoted in G. Maraniello and J. Watkins (eds.), Giuseppe Penone, 2002, p. 280).
The black surface of Giuseppe Penone’s Pelle di grafite- riflesso di algurite (2008) is inscribed with frenetic pencil strokes that animate the canvas in their lucent reflection of light. Penone’s abstract topography of lines bears the wrinkles and creases of a human palm rendered on a microscopic scale. This analytical drawing directly relates to the cognitive processes that form the foundation of his practice. Penone’s immense depiction of a hand is a universally recognizable image that resonates with humanity regardless of culture, extolling his desire to transgress the often elitist boundaries of the avant-garde by creating a work ‘not of exclusion but of inclusion’ (G. Penone, quoted in A. Zevi, ‘Giuseppe Penone Hands On,’ in Giuseppe Penone, exh. cat., Haunch of Venison, London, 2011, p. 58). Penone’s choice of subject matter also reflects the significance he attributes to touch. The quality of skin has been a definitive theme within his oeuvre since the 1970s. His is particularly fascinated by the notion of skin as a barrier between the self and the external – simultaneously a ‘definition of the individual’ and a receptor of environmental conditions that reciprocally transmits sensation (G. Penone, quoted in B. Buchloh, ‘Interivew with Giuseppe Penone’, in L. Busine (ed.), Giuseppe Penone, Brussels 2012, p. 36). Penone’s composition pays homage to the notion of skin as the fabric that universally dictates our experiences and defines our physical existence. In Pelle de grafite Penone beautifully renders this complicated sentiment in a simple and meditative arrangement of line and space.