• Post-War and Contemporary Art  auction at Christies

    Sale 1106

    Post-War and Contemporary Art (Evening Auction)

    13 February 2013, London, King Street

  • Lot 27

    Alberto Burri (1915-1995)


    Price Realised  


    Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
    signed twice and dedicated 'BURRI in occasione di un anniversario significativo con stima e simpatia a Fiorella ed Emilio. Alberto Burri Roma 31-3-1978' (on the reverse)
    acrovinyl on cellotex
    27 7/8 x 39 3/8in. (70.5 x 100cm.)
    Executed in 1975

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    This work is registered in the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Città di Castello, under number 7555.

    'The painting leads you, it is true, but at the same time it is always you who leads it. Because the painting counts when it is finished and only then. And it doesn't lead you there at all, it is you who arrives there to say it's finished. Allow yourself to be led, by all means, but it is always you who decides when it is finished' (A. Burri, quoted in G. Serafini, Burri, The Measure and the Phenomenon, Milan 1999, p. 225).

    'My painting is an irreducible presence which refuses to be converted into any other form of expression' (A. Burri, quoted in G. Serafini, Burri: The Measure and the Phenomenon, Milan 1999, p. 114).

    Alberto Burri's Cretto paintings are among the artist's most important and best-loved works. Comprising solely of a monochrome surface of thickly encrusted paint that has been encouraged to crack and breakup into an assisted natural pattern, they are, like most of Burri's works, seemingly authorless and self-defining entities that elegantly articulate their own inherent material nature as a pictorial surface. As such, these fascinating and often surprisingly beautiful works are also startling graphic portraits of the unpredictable forces of nature operating within the logic and the structure of 'painting'. It is in this respect that they represent in many ways the culmination of Burri's life-long working aesthetic.

    With its myriad of naturally occurring cracks appearing to magically swell into a large mosaic-like unity at the centre of the canvas, Bianco Cretto is a stunningly resolved work from this important series that Burri made in 1975. Burri had first employed cracked Cretto-like surfaces in works as early as 1951, but it was not until the late '60s and early 1970s that, as this work shows, he was able to develop a technique whereby the nature, degree and resultant form of the paint's cracking was brought largely under his control and the Cretti as a coherent and independent series of works in Burri's impressive were born. The first of Burri's Cretti were made in 1969 and the vast majority of these works date from the early to mid-1970s although Burri would continue to make some works in this way for many years afterwards.

    Executed at the height of Burri's preoccupation with this series of works, Bianco Cretto of 1975 is one of the most accomplished and coherent landscape-like images of the entire series. The all-important material energy of the surface of the Cretti has in this work been centralized by its establishing of the largest forms and the deepest cracks in the middle of the canvas. These then appear to radiate and dissipate into smaller and less individual forms as they extend towards the borders of the canvas. The monochrome, abstract landscape of natural energy lines and matter that Burri so establishes in this work is, in this way, expressive not only of a bubbling, volcanically eruptive type of force seemingly lying innate within the picture surface, but also of the creative potential that, this work suggests, lies innate within even such a familiar and conventional material as acrylic paint.

    The original inspiration behind the Cretti began in 1958 when, on one of his many visits to California to see his friend Afro, Burri was entranced by the naturally occurring patterns on the cracked desert floor of Death Valley. 'When I was in California, I often went to visit Death Valley' Burri later remembered regarding the Cretti. 'The idea came from there, but then in the painting it became something else. I only wanted to demonstrate the energy of a surface' (A. Burri, quoted in G. Serafini, Burri: The Measure and the Phenomenon, Milan 1999, p. 209).

    As in all of Burri's works, the 'energy of the surface' in these works was established thorough a creative partnership between the artist and his material. In the same way as in all his earlier works, the Cretti only appear to be autonomous, self-defining works of art. This unique quality, was in fact the product of careful manipulation by Burri. Burri had often explored the use of crackled paint in his work ever since the 1940s, but it was only in the Cretti that the surface cracking became, seemingly, the sole creative force at work within the painting. The degree of disruption, destruction, alteration and/or change, was in fact always measured and controlled closely by Burri himself in every work. The size of each Cretto for example is affected by the dilution of the acrylic paint mixture that Burri formed and by the thickness of its application and also by the experience of the artist's touch. The vehicle that drives the formation of the work is the medium itself which, on drying, makes the impasto crack. The actual cracking pattern depends therefore on both chance and nature, the artist's sensibility while making the application and on his decision about when to complete this independent process of change. When the cracking process develops the appearance that Burri was happy with and wanted to keep, it would be suspended and sealed by the subsequent application of a vinavil glue. The resultant Cretto is therefore a partnership between the artist and the inherently different and changing nature of his material, the result of an exchange between the artist and life.

    Because they are comprised solely of the conventional artistic medium of paint, Burri's Cretti are works that have often been seen as marking the artist's 'return to painting' after many pioneering years spent experimenting with a variety of other media. Such media famously included, sackcloth, plastic, iron, paper and wood - all supposedly 'poor materials' that Burri crafted into their resultant pictorial, or 'painterly' form by manipulating their inherent material properties. Burri's sacks were torn, painted over and stitched together, his plastic melted, stretched and punctured. The wood and the paper was burnt, splintered and fractured and the iron was cut, bent and welded into a series of self-expressive surfaces. Burri's Cretti represent the artist travelling full circle in such material experimentation and the bringing to bear of such experiences on the conventional medium of picture-making: paint.

    Special Notice

    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.


    Private Collection, Rome (acquired directly from the artist in 1978).
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in the early 1980s.