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Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property of a Private American Collection
Alberto Burri (1915-1995)

Bianco Plastica

Details
Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
Bianco Plastica
signed and dated 'Burri 67' (on the reverse)
plastic, acrylic, combustion, vinavil on cellotex
61 3/8 x 78 7/8 in. (156 x 200.5 cm.)
Executed in 1967.
Provenance
Estate of the Artist, Città di Castello
Luxembourg & Dayan, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
M. Calvesi, Alberto Burri, Milan, 1971, p. 78 (illustrated).
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, ed., Burri. Contributi al catalogo sistematico, Cittá di Castello, 1990, pp. 202-203, no. 856 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Milan, Galleria Blu, Opere recenti di Burri, January 1968, p. 19 (illustrated).
Milan, Palazzo Citterio di Brera, Burri, May-July 1984, p. 119, no. 99 (illustrated).
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofi´a, Alberto Burri, March-May 2006.
Special Notice

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

Executed in 1967, Bianco Plastica is a stunning example of Alberto Burri’s celebrated series—a luminescent, ethereal horizontal expanse that features a lyrical dispersal of linear elements across a textured open field. What may at first seem a rendering of atmospheric effects or a burst of abstract expressionistic gestures is in fact an assault on the material foundation of the traditional easel picture, its canvas support and imagistic surface. Burri created his radical abstractions through a physical processes carried out on the surface of the picture plane—an event which becomes, for the viewer, a tactile experience as Burri re-conceptualizes what a painting can be. The present work is a singularly powerful expression crowning the creative trajectory the artist undertook in the decades after the Second World War, as in 1958 he discovered a material outside tradition, a material that was radical in its implications. The chemical structure of Celotex, an industrial particle board, was unknown, yet it would lead the artist to his startlingly inventive series of works of the 1960s, the Bianco Plastiche. Cesare Brandi, the curator of the first exhibition in the United States of these works wrote on the occasion in 1962, “They represent a fresh and dazzling departure… the culmination of all Burri’s precious experiment… But in the direct line which leads from the [earlier work], they constitute an astonishing novelty…” (C. Brandi, Alberto Burri, New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Inc., 1963, p. 5).

Burri, in effect, paints with smoke, rendering its effect on acetate and the Celotex support. In so doing, he reconceptualizes the picture plane in transparent tones that feature sooty multidirectional filaments—the effect of scorching the material with a lighted torch and capturing the smoke which then fuses with the residue of Burri’s chosen material. Draping the surface horizontally, he investigates transparent layering, creating “skins” of transparency that reflect light, dazzling the viewer with their luminescent glow. This reflective property calls attention not only to aesthetic pleasure, but also to the materiality of the work itself. Concerned with the ubiquitous use of plastic in an industrialized society, Burri calls attention to its use in commercial products. The curator and art historian Gerald Nordland writes that among Burri’s “mental processes” is the sense of material reversal, to turn the cheapness, even falseness, of everyday materials into an object of higher contemplation through art: “Why should [this plastic substance] not be the perfect subject for an alchemical transmutation in which the shameful and discarded is reformed in the artist’s sensibility not the perfect body’ of art?” (G. Nordland, Alberto Burri: A Retrospective View 1948-1977, exh. cat., The Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, Los Angeles, 1977, p. 56).

Burri’s use of plastic materials evolved during the 1960s. Drawing on the transparent qualities and Burri’s own manipulation through flame and layering, the artist entered his next phase, the Bianco Plastica, in 1965. Touching the synthetic materials with acrylic paint, Burri arrived at a vibrant luminescence that achieves its smooth texture through a combination of effects—the traces of smoke lines, the reflection of plastic laid over the white Celotex, much as a painter might cover a gessoed ground. The effect is almost of a mystical landscape, where light filters through the reflecting plastic to create a series of thread-like sinews that structure the pictorial field in an allover richness of optical and tactile experience. The power and beauty of his “landscapes” bring to mind the theatrical glow of a Rembrandt etching, for example his nocturnal landscapes, such as one might find in The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1634. And yet, in Burri, the effect could also seem as if land has been scorched. Burri’s provocation, his brilliant critical interrogation of the tradition of painting, results in works that are both material statements and aesthetic ones. Bianco Plastica has an elegance, an understated chromaticism, a subtle relationship between dark and light, between ethereal and corporeal that is both subtle and profound.

Currently the subject of a major retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Burri is best known for his collages using unconventional materials. Called Sacchi, Burri patched together sacks and other discarded materials, and through the process catalyzed the Italian art movement known as Arte Povera. Artists such as Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, and Michelangelo Pistoletto explored throwaway materials, using discarded clothing, rags, and twigs to challenge the pervading painterly aesthetic. With consummate hand-wrought skills, Burri manipulates materials to call into question their history and meaning. In all of Burri’s production, what is apparent is the specific hand of the artist, the authorial manipulation that sublimates materials conventionally outside the fine arts to a signature aesthetic. This aesthetic carries for the artist the analogy of a flame, with its dynamic quality, its shape-shifting energy that in an almost uncontrolled, chance-based process creates extraordinary patterns of lines, craters, crackling, and graying effects of vaporized mist. The tension between masterly control and automatism, between material and immaterial, between ephemeral and tactile redound to the significance of their radical and uncompromising aesthetic. To quote Nordland once again, “[Burri] built upon the non-verbal, the thing itself, the intensely real…. He is spoken to by the materials and he releases their messages to the world” (G. Nordland, ibid., p. 49).

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