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Salvatore Scarpitta (1919-2007)
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Salvatore Scarpitta (1919-2007)

High Bride

Details
Salvatore Scarpitta (1919-2007)
High Bride
signed, titled and dated 'SALVATORE SCARPITTA 1960 "HIGH BRIDE"' (on the reverse)
bandages and mixed media on canvas
60 x 401/8in. (152.5 x 102cm.)
Executed in 1960
Provenance
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York.
Ludwig Museum Collection, Cologne.
Studio Gariboldi, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature
L. Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta. Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 2005, no. 256 (illustrated, p. 174).
Salvatore Scarpitta, exh. cat., Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin 2012 (historic installation view illustrated, p.158).
Exhibited
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Salvatore Scarpitta, 1960.
Dusseldorf, Galerie Schmela, Scarpitta, 1963.
Milan, Galleria dell'Ariete, Scarpitta 1958-1963, 1964, no. 6.
Milan, Studio Gariboldi, Salvatore Scarpitta, 2014 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
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.

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Mariolina Bassetti
Mariolina Bassetti

Lot Essay

Salvatore Scarpitta’s High Bride of 1960 is a rare large-scale monochrome relief painting from a pivotal period in the artist’s oeuvre. It belongs to a series of radical and trailblazing wrapped canvas works dubbed ‘extramurals’ that challenged and significantly expanded the concept of painting in the post-war era. First conceived of in 1957 and an influence on the reductive art of Scarpitta’s Italian peers Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, the extra murals turned the tools and materials of art making into the artwork itself. Using some of the basic physical elements of a painting – stretcher, paint and cotton as well as its typical scale and shape – Scarpitta has reinvented an age old, established medium and imbued it with a new identity that verges on the surreal. No longer playing the supportive role for a fat surface on which to paint, the stretcher bars have become an armature around which strips of elasticated cotton are wrapped, with white pigment and resin applied to freeze the tension and preserve the raw quality of the textile. A substructure of wires pushes these bands outward from behind, creating bulges, hollows and slits that accentuate the play of light and shadow on the irregular surface while also evincing a sense of something concealed from view, something living, beneath protective swaddling.

Often described as the bridge between Minimalism, Pop and Arte Povera, Scarpitta was born and raised in the United States but spent over two decades residing in Italy, from 1936 until the late 1950s. His work became a synthesis of the European avant-garde and the American bravado that came to characterise the period after the War. After working within a mode of painterly abstraction that looked to the precedents of Futurism and Cubism, as well as the work of contemporaries such as Alberto Burri, Scarpitta began to literally deconstruct the medium of painting out of a sense of frustration, destroying old canvases and wrapping the remnants around their supporting frame. During 1957 and 1958, when he was sharing a studio space with Cy Twombly in Rome, Scarpitta had become increasingly aware that his abstract paintings were not moving forwards. ‘At some point in my life, around 1957, I decided that the oil paints that I was using were kind of slipping away, slipping of the canvas. They were losing their presence. To staunch the fow of losing paint, I started to wrap them, treating them as if they were objects that had been wounded in some way or another, or that required healing in some way or another’ (S. Scarpitta in A Woolfe, dir., Art & Racing: the Work and Life of Salvatore Scarpitta, 1998, accessed via https://vimeo. com/229197401, 30 Jul 2018).

Scarpitta first revealed his bandaged works to the world in an exhibition in 1958 at the Galleria La Tartaruga in Rome, which created a stir among the Italian avant-garde. Of the back of this success, fellow artist Piero Dorazio and Scarpitta’s dealer at the time, Plinio De Martiis, both introduced the New York dealer Leo Castelli to him and his works. This resulted in a one-man show in New York in 1959, and also to Scarpitta’s decisive return to the United States. High Bride was created only a year later for his second solo exhibition at Castelli’s prestigious gallery, its large size encouraged by the dealer for the American market. Constructed from bands of cotton soaked in resin and paint and stretched horizontally across a framework, this work is simultaneously a painting and a sculpture, its aterial composition collapsing the distinctions between the support and subject to become a three-dimensional, autonomous object. With all traces of the artist’s own hand expunged, High Bride is an elegant and minimal entity, its low-relief structure extending into and coalescing with the space surrounding it.

High Bride is an example of total, uninhibited abstraction; minimalist to an extreme, but it is laced generously with conceptual, art historical and emotional favour. With its achromatic chiaroscuro, the work evokes the drapery seen on Classical marble statuary or the delicate folds of the loincloth worn by Jesus in depictions of the crucifixion. The physical act of swathing something also indicates the process of healing described by Scarpitta, with the bandage-like strips suggesting the dressing of a wound or a shroud. Understanding the historical moment in which such works emerged is vital to their understanding; Scarpitta had witnessed the war’s devastation firsthand and he began to create his breakthrough wrapped works just as Italy was finally beginning to recover from the damage wrought by fascism and the Second World War. He had graduated from the conservative Academy of Fine Arts in Rome in 1940, the same year Italy entered the war and was interned for a period before spending nearly a year in hiding. He then joined the US Navy and served as a “monuments man”, part of a multinational group charged with searching out, cataloguing and rescuing art from the Nazis. In a sense, the swaddling of High Bride recalls the protection of monuments during the fnal period of the War and its aftermath. At the same time, it also reveals the sense of renewal that underpinned so much of Scarpitta’s work. In both contexts, this is a picture that has the notion of healing at its core, as the bandage-like strips of material are bound again and again around the frame.

This work is in effect a tabula rasa, a ground zero, from which to re-establish the most fundamental aspect of painting as being a place of encounter between the mind and the body rather than a passive entity for the outpourings of the artist’s soul. The bound painting, for Scarpitta, became a pure entity, directly representing nothing, but nevertheless conveying both feeling and atmosphere in a distinctive brand of emotive abstraction that harnessed texture, tension, light and space. Scarpitta’s celebrated extra murals blurred the established boundaries between painting and sculpture, becoming a new class of artwork that the Minimalist artist Donald Judd described as ‘specific objects’ in his seminal 1965 essay of the same name, in which he identified Scarpitta as an artist who focussed on painting as a three-dimensional structure. Situated beyond or outside the realm of painting, such works were, Judd argued, ‘specific objects’ that stand and assert themselves in a new space – one that is part material, part conceptual. Scarpitta’s extra murals were instigated by an iconoclastic gesture, but there is a certain Romantic sensibility that ran throughout his practice, in which everything he made was instilled with a sense of love, passion and even sentimentality. Apart from the pressing need to create something new through the act of destruction, the development for Scarpitta’s distinctive style was also said to have come from the birth of his daughter, Lola. Scarpitta is said to have taken the bands of cloth that he used to swaddle his new-born baby and dipped them in glue to stiffen them before wrapping them around a wooden stretcher. On seeing this innovation fellow artist Piero Dorazio declared ‘[t]hese works impressed me for their originality and for their value as an extension of his experience of a painter; they represented the first case of a step forward after the provocation of Burri. So when Fontana came to Rome I took him to Salvatore’s studio … The next year
I went to visit Fontana and his studio was full of canvases with the famous slashes, which could have only been suggested by the swathing bands of Scarpitta’ (P. Dorazio, quoted in L. Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 1, Milan 2005 p. 68). Furthermore, Piero Manzoni’s kaolin soaked Achrome works, which similarly explore the autonomy of the art object and its materiality, were directly influenced by Scarpitta’s heavily impregnated canvases, which the younger artist reportedly asked to imitate.

Although often underappreciated in relation to these giants, Scarpitta’s work was clearly allied to the pioneering work of this post-war generation in presenting an enduring challenge to social and artistic codes of behaviour. His significance has been increasingly recognised in recent years, with a solo exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington in 2014, his inclusion in major group shows such as 2013’s Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and an exhibition of work from the artist’s seminal 1956–1964 period at Luxembourg & Dayan, New York in October 2016. High Bride represents the height of refinement for Scarpitta’s extramural project, its spare yet dynamic surface embodying a supremely elegant advancement in the development of twentieth century painting. An expression of pure form that drags with it the weight of human emotions and history, it exploits the ambiguities that exist between injury and regeneration, abstraction and realism, freedom and constraint in a work of quiet drama and great beauty.



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