Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A ROMAN COLLECTION
Alberto Burri (1915-1995)

Rosso plastica (Plastic Red)

Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
Rosso plastica (Plastic Red)
signed, dated and inscribed 'a Marotta con amicizia Burri Grottarossa 66' (on the reverse)
plastic and combustion on Cellotex
8 ¼ x 15in. (21 x 38cm.)
Executed in 1966
Acquired directly from the artist in 1966.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Burri. Contributial catalogo sistematico, Città di Castello 1990, no. 737 (illustrated in colour, p. 175).
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Alberto Burri. Catalogo Generale, Città di Castello 2015, vol. II, no. 1152 (illustrated in colour, p. 212); vol. VI, no. i.668 (illustrated in colour, p. 165).
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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

Combining the most innovative aspects of Alberto Burri’s practice –
the use of plastic and fire as his artistic materials – Rosso plastica is
a dramatic example of the artist’s Combustioni plastiche, a series that
he had begun in 1960. With its richly visceral, searing red surface,
riven by craters, ridges and indentations left from the fiery inferno
that bore its creation, this work is a sensual celebration of its material
parts, an exaltation of the humblest of materials and most elemental
of processes. Appearing like a stream of bubbling volcanic magma or a
bodily membrane, Rosso plastica is neither a painting nor a sculpture,
but is an object that both asserts its inherent and self-defining
materiality, while simultaneously revelling in the plethora of visual
allusions conjured by its carnal, corporeal red and lacerated structure.
Executed in 1966, Burri presented Rosso plastica as a gift to his friend,
in whose family it has remained until the present day.

Fire, an element traditionally associated with destruction rather
than any form of artistic creation, had first entered Burri’s practice
in mid-1950s. Unleashing the fearsome power of this force first on
paper, then burlap, wood and metal, Burri subsequently moved to
plastic, first experimenting with this ubiquitous modern material in
1957. In harnessing fire as a means of artistic creation, Burri once
again made a significant leap in pushing the boundaries of art making,
conceiving of an entirely new mode of painting. Taking a sheet of
plastic, Burri entered into an intimate dialogue with the material.
Wielding a blowtorch, he sculpted, manipulated and shaped the
plastic as it melted and charred, constantly in control and relishing the
effects the fire made as the material succumbed to the heat wrought
upon it. ‘Nothing is left to chance’, he described of his practice of
burning. ‘What I do here is the most controlled and controllable type
of painting… You need to control the material and this is achieved by
mastering the technique’ (Burri, quoted in E. Braun, Alberto Burri: The
Trauma of Painting, exh. cat., New York & Dusseldorf, 2015-2016, p.
211). In this way, Burri formed the same sense of pictorial detail and
compositional drama, chiaroscuro and dynamic, animated surface
texture as an artist could with oil paint, but achieving these efects with
fame. As Emily Braun has described: ‘Burri began by burning holes
in the material with a torch. He varied the distance and controlled the
temperature as the plastic melted into wavelike formations, blistered,
and burst into fames, and then he extinguished the fames by dousing
them in water… Burri also treated the torch like a drawing instrument,
carefully shading by adding feathery deposits on the plastic’ (E. Braun,
ibid., p. 211).

In addition to this innovative means of pictorial creation, Burri also
paved new ground in his adoption of plastic as his medium. The
manufacturing of this now ubiquitous material had begun in the years
following the Second World War, its rapid manufacture during Italy’s
‘economic miracle’ making it a domestic staple in post-war Italian
homes. Rarely however had this material been seen in art until Burri’s
work of the 1960s. From the time that these Plastiche were first
exhibited at the Marlborough Gallery in Rome in 1962, these innovative
works drew widespread attention. ‘Certainly’, Cesare Brandi wrote,
‘one could not have imagined, before Burri, that plastic, as it is, indeed
accentuated in its constitutional defects, could become the matter-non-
matter of a new cycle of works’ (C. Brandi, quoted in ibid., p.
37). Unleashing the power of fame upon plastic, Burri transformed
both its humble, quotidian uses and its banal appearance into often
sensuous, tactile works characterised with a kind of Baroque drama
and excess. As he had with burlap sacking, wood and iron, Burri took
the ephemera of modern existence and exalted it into a new and
innovative art form. Discussing this process, Burri explained: ‘I chose
to use poor materials to prove that they could still be useful. The
poorness of a medium is not a symbol: it is a device for painting’ (Burri,
quoted in Alberto Burri: A Retrospective View 1948-77,, Los
Angeles, 1977, p. 72).

It is the searing red of the plastic which, as the title affirms, defines
Rosso plastica. Purposefully choosing this brightly coloured type of
plastic, Burri has revelled in the powerful symbolism of this searing,
richly associative colour. The all-over red monochrome surface of the
work is reminiscent of the contemporaneous works of Enrico Castellani,
Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, as well as of the large colour-field
painting of the Abstract Expressionists, Mark Rothko and Barnett
Newman to name but a few. More than these artists however, Burri’s
use of red is filled with powerful, visceral meaning. Charred, melted and
manipulated, the red surface is immediately and undeniably corporeal,
appearing like a wound or laceration, an equivalence that is often
remarked upon in Burri’s work when regarded through the framework of
his wartime service as a medic, and the reconstruction and healing, both
physical and psychological, of the post-war era. Carnal and sensuous,
this colour also speaks to danger and violence, both of which are
heightened by the scorching blaze out of which this work was created.
In this way, Burri has transformed plastic, a normally sterile, pristine and
sanitized material, into an organic, visceral, breathing object, its charred,
reflective surface appearing as if a living piece of flesh.


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