Giovanni Anselmo (B. 1934)
Giovanni Anselmo (B. 1934)


Giovanni Anselmo (B. 1934)
galvanized metal and brick
8 1/4 x 51 1/2 x 82 3/4 in. (21 x 130.8 x 210.2 cm.)
Executed in 1969.
The Estate of Ileana Sonnabend, New York, acquired from the artist
By descent to the present owner
G. Moure, Giovanni Anselmo, Santiago de Compostela, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, 1995, pp. 130-131, 126-127 and 262, nos. 29 and 30 (illustrated).
Che Fare? Arte Povera- The Historic Years, exh. cat., Vaduz, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, 2010, p. 58 (previous version illustrated).
B. Altshuler, ed., Biennials and Beyond: Exhibitions that Made Art History, 1962-2002, London, 2013, p. 101 (previous version illustrated).
Kunsthalle Bern, When Attitudes Become Form, March-April 1969, no. 5 (previous version exhibited).
Paris, Galerie Sonnabend, Giovanni Anselmo, October 1969.
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Collection Sonnabend: 25 Années de Choix et d'Activités d'Ileana et Michael Sonnabend, October 1987-February 1988, p. 229 (illustrated in color).
Galleria Civica Modena and Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon, Giovanni Anselmo, May-November 1989, p. 75, no. 27 (illustrated).
Porto, Fundac¸a~o de Serralves, Circa 1968, June-August 1999.
Saratoga Springs, Skidmore College, Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery; Columbus, Ohio State University, Wexner Center for the Arts and Milwaukee Art Museum, From Pop to Now: Selections from the Sonnabend Collection, June 2002-May 2003, pp. 112-113 (illustrated in color).
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Notations/Forms of Contingency: New York and Turin 1960s-1970s, April-September 2010.
Milan, Fondazione Prada, When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013, June-November 2013, pp. 360-363, 551 and 594-595 (illustrated).

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

When fully installed, this work contains six bricks placed in a mixture of water and quicklime in a galvanized metal container.

“Evoking the meditative tranquility of gazing into a body of water, Anselmo’s Untitled returns the act of artistic contemplation to its natural origins” (R. Haidu in M. Sundell (ed.), From Pop to Now: Selections from the Sonnabend Collection, exh. cat., New York, 2002, p. 112).
Giovanni Anselmo’s 1969 Untitled is a poem in space, a lyrical arrangement of elemental materials that evokes a calming sense of infinitude. An exemplar of what postmodernist art historian Rosalind Krauss termed “sculpture in the expanded field,” Untitled decisively bursts open or makes expansive and elastic every supposed constraint. The piece is composed of a gleaming galvanized metal frame containing a serene layer of water and six ochre bricks. In keeping with Anselmo’s acclaimed body of work from the late 1960s, in the period during which Arte Povera was at its aesthetic and critical pinnacle, Untitled engages with natural forces, pulling the viewer into nature’s fluxions and cycles. The mesmeric pool of water in the work gradually evaporates to reveal the liquid’s effects on the bricks’ color and texture. Upon the addition of water to Untitled by the spectator, the dynamic piece’s life cycle begins anew: an aesthetic ecosystem. The essence of Giovanni Anselmo’s formidable talent lies in his ability to create work that is at once highly material—invested in the fundamental properties of objects—and profoundly metaphysical, posing questions about nature, the cosmos, and being. The transcendental work at hand, made at the height of Anselmo’s creative capabilities as a central Arte Povera artist, is an exemplar of the artist’s idiosyncratic mastery of metaphysics and material alike.

Here, Anselmo has arranged six bricks in a galvanized metal frame that has been laid flat and filled with a lamina of placid water. The visual effect is at once sculptural, painterly, and organic. As art historian Rachel Haidu evocatively explicates, “Traces of white chalk on the inside and outside edges of the frame interrupt the metal’s shiny finish, while the ochre bricks cast shadows on the greenish-gray water, creating subtle color contrasts that harmonize into an almost painterly whole… [Anselmo’s] arrangement of bricks inside a steel frame alludes to a picture’s framing edge and its internal composition even as his use of everyday building materials flouts conventional artistic media such as painting or sculpture” (R. Haidu in M. Sundell (ed.), From Pop to Now: Selections from the Sonnabend Collection, exh. cat., New York, 2002, p. 112). The cyclical evaporation of water in the piece powerfully references the rhythms of the natural world. As the viewer is confronted with the decision of whether to replenish the work’s water source or allow additional evaporation to take place, Untitled elevates the role of the spectator from onlooker to participant. This element of participation takes on a political valence when put in conversation with Arte Povera’s ideological slant.

Born in Turin, Italy, in 1934, sculptor Giovanni Anselmo was a leading figure in the Italian Arte Povera movement, an avant-garde conceptual movement—solidified by curator Germano Celant in 1967—that expressed a radical politics through its groundbreaking use of everyday and frequently ephemeral materials. (Anselmo’s artist toolkit included, to name only a few of his unconventional materials, heads of lettuce, Perspex, leather, granite, cotton, water, and light.) Works like Untitled were reactions against hegemonic abstract modernist painting and art world commercialization, visual declarations of the importance of engaging with “actual materials and…total reality” in a way “which, although hard to understand, is subtle, cerebral, elusive, private, intense” (I. Chilvers and J. Glaves-Smith, A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art, Oxford, p. 37). While Anselmo was part of a larger movement, one definitive moment in his own life redirected his oeuvre toward the elemental and the infinite. On August 16, 1965 the artist had an epiphany on Stromboli, an active volcanic island in Italy. When he was photographed, Anselmo had no perceivable shadow because the rising sun—at what he viewed as a mystical meeting place of earth, fire, air, and water—had projected his shadow into the sky. The artist was struck by his role as a detail in a vast fabric of connective energies, and began to make work that reflected this epiphany, from wooden blocks screwed through with metal rods to slabs of granite inserted with compass needles.

A work of formidable formal elegance, Untitled is an exemplar of Anselmo’s oeuvre in that “with constraint and originality… [it turns space] into something unexpected and surprising, charged with wonder and amazement” (F. Pola, “Critics’ Picks: Giovanni Anselmo, Wolfgang Laib, and Ettore Spalleti,” Artforum, June 2015, n.p.). The tranquil piece is an arrangement composed of brick and water, of metal and chalk—and at the same time, a sculpture of the weight of gravity, the depth of time, and the vastness of space.

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