Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
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Alberto Burri (1915-1995)

Grande Ferro

Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
Grande Ferro
signed, titled, and dated 'Burri 58 GRANDE FERRO M2' (on the reverse)
oil on welded iron on canvas
78¾ x 77 in. (200 x 195.5 cm.)
Executed in 1958
Marlborough Galleria d'Arte, Rome.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, by whom acquired from the above in 1963. Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1977.
'Burri', in I 4 Soli, no. 1, Turin, January - February 1959 (illustrated p. 16).
E. Villa, 'Alberto Burri', in Aujourd'hui, no. 28, Paris, September 1960 (illustrated p. 21).
E. Crispolti, Burri, Un saggio e tre note, Milan, 1961, p. 37 (illustrated pl. VII).
C. Brandi, Burri, Rome, 1963, pp. 27 & 35 (illustrated pl. 40).
M. Calvesi, Alberto Burri, Milan, 1971 (illustrated pl. 47).
A.T. Caffaratto, 'Alberto Burri', in Vitalità, no. 162, Turin, May 1977, pp. 40 & 42 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., La misura aurea della materia, Rome, Galleria Anna d'Ascanio, November 1979 - February 1980 (illustrated p. 29).
S. Lux, Alberto Burri, dalla pittura alla pittura (1983-1944), Rome, 1984 (illustrated p. 5).
'Burri', in La Nuova Enciclopedia dell'Arte, Milan, 1986, p. 147.
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Burri, Contributi al Catalogo Sistematico, Città di Castello, 1990, no. 667 (illustrated p. 161). G. Serafini, Burri, La misura e il fenomeno, Milan, 1999, no. 108 (illustrated p. 123).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Burri, April 1959, no. 1.
Los Angeles, University of California, The Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, Alberto Burri. A Retrospective View 1948-1977, September - December 1977, no. 35 (illustrated p. 45). This exhibition later travelled to San Antonio, Marion Koogler Art Institute, January - February 1978; Milwaukee, Milwaukee Art Museum, March - May 1978 and New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, June - August 1978.
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Lot Essay

Formed of wrought metal, segments soldered together to form an imposing pseudo-industrial patchwork, Grande Ferro is one of the largest of the works from Burri's celebrated Ferri series. Executed in 1958, this work combines both Burri's interest in material and in process. The soldering that he has used in order to create Grande Ferro out of sections of metal has replaced the stitching of his Sacchi, but more importantly has replaced the act of painting itself. Burri has removed any notion of representation, instead confronting the artist with something that is raw, that is itself, that does not refer to the outside world but that suffices as an object in its own right. He has replaced the role of the painter, too, creating his work through industrial means and techniques that illustrate the irrelevance of the artistic traditions that had predated the Second World War. All those had, in Burri's eyes, become moot and redundant, and so he created an aesthetic that combines a direct interest in the world, an interest in the texture of war-battered Europe, and an interest in the age of technology in which he was working.

Reflecting this intense sense of objecthood, Burri explained that, 'I have no need for words when I try to express my ideas about my painting. Because my painting is an irreducible presence which refuses to be converted into any other form of expression... All I can say is this: for me painting is a freedom I have achieved and constantly consolidated and defended with care in order to draw from it the strength to paint more' (Burri, 1955, quoted in G. Serafini, Burri: The Measure and the Phenomenon, Milan, 1999, p. 114). The unwillingness to convert his painting into any other form of expression extends to his titles, which themselves are descriptive in a minimal sense, allowing no room for interpretation or misinterpretation. These titles appear to seal the works hermetically, to allow them to refer only to themselves. By presenting these fragments-- these metallic pieces of the real world-- to the viewer, Burri celebrates them, celebrating the properties of this metal, celebrating its gleam and its textures.

By incorporating pieces of metal that appear battered and beaten, Burri has tuned into an aesthetic perfectly suited to the age of science and industry in which he was working. As his medium, he has taken the very stuff of our technological age and enshrined it. He has replaced the oil and canvas with something that is not obsolete, that has some currency in our world.

The use of soldered metal becomes all the more pertinent as a reflection of the age of reconstruction of which Burri's art was a product. By attaching these metal constituents, Burri appears to be mending them, to be healing the world in some way. The use of soldering and welding to mend introduces a strange tension in Grande Ferro: fire is associated with burning, with destruction, and yet here becomes the means of salvaging scrap and granting it a minor apotheosis. Fire, rather than oil paint, has become a force of creation in the hands of Burri, a perfect metaphor for an artist working in a world that so clearly still bore the scars of the flames of war.

Despite these clear echoes of the larger world in Grande Ferro, it is as a self-contained and self-referential portrait of iron itself that it functions. It is an exploration, and hence a celebration, of the material in its own right:

'What I've sought to draw out of [my media] is only their property. Iron, for example, suggested a sense of hardness, weight, sharpness. I was not interested in 'representing' iron. It was immediately obvious that the material was iron. I wanted instead to explain what iron was capable of' (Burri, quoted in Serafini, op.cit., 1999, p. 160).

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