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Enrico Castellani (b. 1930)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION 
Enrico Castellani (b. 1930)

Superficie bianca

Enrico Castellani (b. 1930)
Superficie bianca
signed, titled and dated 'Enrico Castellani_Superficie Bianca_1984' (on the reverse)
acrylic on shaped canvas
70 7/8 x 94 5/8in. (180.2 x 240.2cm.)
Executed in 1984
Lorenzelli Arte, Milan.
Private Collection.
Galleria Zonca, Milan.
Private collection, Brescia.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008.
R. Wirz, F. Sardella, Enrico Castellani, Catalogo ragionato, Tomo secondo, Opere 1955-2005, Milan 2013, no. 555 (illustrated, p. 470).
Venice, Padiglione Italia, Giardini di Castello, XLI Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte. La Biennale di Venezia. Arte e Arti. Attualità e storia, 1984 (illustrated, p. 156).
Milan, Lorenzelli Arte, Enrico Castellani, 1986 (illustrated, p. 17).

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.
Post lot text
This work is registered in the Archivio Enrico Castellani, Milan, under no. 84-008.

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Alessandro Diotallevi
Alessandro Diotallevi

Lot Essay

Standing almost six feet tall and stretching almost eight feet wide, Enrico Castellani's Superficie bianca is a monumental monochrome. Its vast surface features Castellani's hallmark three-dimensionality: a grid of nails has alternatively pulled the canvas inwards, causing small regular craters, or has pushed it outwards to create little peaks. This results in an incredible, complex play of light across the grid of the surface, which is entirely covered with the horizontal and vertical arrangement of these interventions. It is doubtless a tribute to the imposing nature of this picture that it was included in the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1984, the year it was created. There, it featured alongside works by a host of luminaries of Italian art in a show curated by Maurizio Calvesi, entitled Arte e Arti: Attualità e Storia, a project as ambitious as its title indicates. Other artists represented included Alberto Burri, Giulio Paolini, Mario Schifano and Emilio Vedova, to name but a few. This indicates the incredible range of the show.

In Superficie bianca, Castellani appears to have taken the monumental white surface as his inspiration, creating an entire field of contemplation. The planar nature of the painting has been fully disrupted and subverted, in a manner that recalls the innovations of Lucio Fontana in the late 1940s, when he began to puncture the picture surface. Castellani has little interest in the type of space explored by Fontana, who was looking to the stars and to eternity with his gestures and his tiny fragments of the cosmos. In contrast to Fontana, Castellani has created an artwork that evokes nothing, that quite simply is. It defines the space around it, embracing it in its undulations, and therefore occupying and animating a zone not formerly associated with pictures. This 'Painting-Object' exists in its own right, beholden to nothing.

There is a sense of dynamism, even of vibration, to the static surface in Superficie bianca, conveyed through the regular crenulations of its surface and the incredible, complex play of light across it. The work appears to straddle the realm of the traditional picture, hanging on the wall, yet also to function in an almost abstract manner. This was a factor that Castellani himself has discussed, pointing out the meditative quality created by this paradoxical nature of the surface:

'It should be pointed out that my "surfaces", because of their regularity of composition and lack of imagery, can be easily and rather properly interpreted as invitations to contemplation, although this peculiarity does not cover the full range of my problematics and indeed is only one result of it, on a level with certain elements of religious architecture, especially Muslim. I'm referring on the one hand to my so-called canopied and angular surfaces, and on the other to the "doors" of mosques, which have only the metaphysical value of "passage" to liken them to doors or entrances, whereas in reality they are a concave, curvilinear space, or niche, functioning in fact as a space for mystical contemplation' (Castellani, quoted in G. Celant, 'Behind the Picture: Enrico Castellani', pp. 10-18, G. Celant (ed.), Enrico Castellani 1958-1970, exh. cat., Milan, 2001, pp. 15-16).

Essentially, Castellani appears to see his works as functioning in a similar way to the Mihrab found in mosques, the focal point that indicates the direction of Mecca. It is therefore a space that is at once real and abstract, a door that is both functional and symbolic. In this way, Superficie bianca also presents the viewer with an object that is at once tangible and real and yet which also serves to illustrate the nature of art, of painting, of the space itself. It is a secular answer to the Mihrab, a focal point for the real and also for the consideration of the reconfigured nature of art and painting that is represented in the creation of such a work.

That creation is itself paradoxical. The surface is crisp and regular, and yet the hand-made nature of the composition may be suppressed, but is unavoidable. After all, through its use of nails, Superficie bianca recalls the works of one of Castellani's contemporaries in the early days, Gunther Uecker. While the incredible strictness of the uniform rows of peaks and dips in this picture appear to remove the human element from its construction, Superficie bianca is nonetheless a resolutely hand-made construction. The struts and bars that Castellani has assembled as the foundations for this work, which are invisible behind the canvas, add to the incredible sense of that combination of architectural construction and handicraft that underpins so many of his most recognised works. That tension between the hand-made and the autonomous is something that ran like a thread through the works of a number of artists from the period that Castellani first began making similar canvases, such as Alberto Burri and Robert Rauschenberg. However, it is perhaps in the pleats of the Achromes of his friend Piero Manzoni that the self-generating patterns of Superficie bianca find their closest parallel: the artist has intervened, but only insomuch as was necessary to bring their visions to fruition, ushering into existence a work that is self-defined, be it through the setting of kaolin or the logic of the placing of the nails.

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