ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)
ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)
ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)
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ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)
7 More
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTOR
ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)

Nero Plastica L.A.

ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)
Nero Plastica L.A.
plastic, synthetic polymer paint and vinavil on fabric
52 3/8 x 78in. (133 x 198.1cm.)
Executed in 1963
Mazzoleni-Schiavina Collection, Turin.
Private Collection, Europe.
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s New York, 16 November 2017, lot 48.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Le Comité de Séléction International, ‘La mutation de la peinture contemporaine de 1945 à aujourd’hui’, in Olympiade des Arts, Seoul 1988, no. 5 (illustrated in colour, p. 705)
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Burri: Contributi al Catalogo Sistematico, Città di Castello, 1990, pp. 176 and 491, no. 739 and 63.19 (illustrated in colour, p. 177).
B. Corà (ed.), Burri: General Catalogue, Painting 1958-1978, Volume II, Città di Castello 2015, p. 158, no. 985 (illustrated in colour).
B. Corà (ed.), Burri: General Catalogue Chronological Repertory, 1945-1994, Volume VI, Città di Castello 2015, no. i.6319 (illustrated in colour, p. 149).
B. Corà (ed.), BURRI: Plastiche, Florence 2018 (illustrated in colour, p. 94; installation view illustrated in colour, pp. 100-101).
New York, DiLaurenti Gallery, Burri, 18 Paintings, 1953-1986, 1986, p. 13, no. 8 (illustrated, p. 29).
Turin, Mazzoleni Galleria d'Arte, Alberto Burri: Tra materia e forma, Opere scelte 1948 - 1993, 2003, p. 48, no. 19 (illustrated, p. 49).
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting, 2015-2016, no. 60 (illustrated in colour, p. 226). This exhibition later travelled to Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen.
London, Luxembourg & Co., Lost in Italy, 2021, p. 36 (illustrated in colour, p. 37; installation view illustrated in colour, p. 45).
Special notice
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Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Director, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

A masterpiece of fearless material alchemy, Nero Plastica L.A. is a rare and majestic work from Alberto Burri’s ground-breaking series of black Plastiche. With its vast plastic surface scorched, melted and wrinkled by the flames of a blowtorch, it offers a dazzling, near-volcanic terrain that represents the culmination of the artist’s revolutionary material language during the early 1960s. Created at the height of Burri’s engagement with this particular medium in 1963, it is one of only seven monumental Neri Plastiche, taking its place alongside examples held in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, and the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Collezione Burri, Rome, with a further promised to the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Formerly held in the Mazzoleni-Schiavina Collection, and more recently included in the artist’s landmark retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2015, it is a work of devastating theatrical ambition, speaking both to the charged Zeitgeist of post-war Europe and the flourishing artistic landscape of America where Burri was making waves during this period. Creation and destruction, light and shadow, past, present and future are bound together in its inky black surface, poised in perilous balance on the edge of the abyss.

Having originally studied medicine before serving as a doctor in the Italian military, Burri took up painting whilst interned at a prisoner of war camp in Hereford, Texas, in 1944. Upon returning to Italy, he came to the conclusion that traditional means of expression were no longer relevant in a world ravaged by conflict. Initially employing materials such as tar, ground volcanic rock, industrial chemical binders and burlap sacking, he set about creating an art grounded in the innate properties of his materials. Influenced by Dada principles, Burri’s creations were wholly self-defined, designed to allude to nothing other than the fact of their own existence. In spite of themselves, however, his works became symbols of hope to a generation traumatised by war: his materials were torn, fractured and charred, yet ultimately visions of progress, healing and regeneration. The present work’s scarred, ruptured terrain is also veiled by a sense of Baroque extravagance—light funnels through its apertures and bounces off its glistening surface, transforming its dark corners into wellsprings of luminosity.

Nero Plastica L.A. marks the apotheosis of a method—and a medium—that Burri had been exploring for some years. Paper, canvas, wood and metal had already been subjected to his experiments in combustion by the time that the artist first began to investigate the unlikely medium of plastic in the 1950s. At the height of Italy’s ‘economic miracle’, the material was becoming increasingly widespread, with industrial plants in the North putting it through its paces to manufacture a range of everyday items. Few artists were interested in its properties: in Burri’s hands, however, it would come to redefine the creative act. Using sheets of different thicknesses, he began to experiment with its potential, ignite the surface with a blowtorch before manipulating the molten apertures into abstract formations, adjusting the distance and intensity of the flame as he went. Burri used Vinavil—a water-based PVC emulsion—to coat the surface both before and after burning, causing it to curl under the lick of the flames and ultimately leaving it with a glossy finish. The results were like new worlds: craters, valleys and rivers sprung as if from nowhere, forming complex and beautiful topographies.

With examples held in museums worldwide—including the monumental Plastica (1964; Centre Georges Pompidou Paris) and the dramatic flaming red Grande Rosso (1963; Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome)—the Plastiche began in earnest in 1961. When shown for the first time in Rome the following year, the critic Cesare Brandi would describe them as a ‘a fresh and dazzling departure', explaining that 'in a way they represent the culmination of all Burri’s previous experiments ... in the direct line which leads from the Gobbi through the Combustione and the Ferri to the Plastiche, they constitute an astonishing novelty' (C. Brandi, Burri, exh. cat. Marlborough Gallery, Rome 1962, p. 5). By the time of the present work, Burri had honed his technique to extraordinary levels of virtuosity, orchestrating thrilling battles between the forces of chance and control. Nero Plastica L.A. eloquently encapsulates the euphoria of this period, its surface alive with dynamic power. The boundaries between painting, drawing and sculpture cease to exist: line, form, energy and texture become part and parcel of the process itself.

The present work belongs to the relatively small group of black Plastiche that Burri created between 1962 and 1964. While the artist would experiment with different colours over the years, the black works stand among some of the most daring and complex expressions of the series. Black, for Burri, was the purest and most fundamental hue: it was, as Renato Miracco has written, ‘the base colour of Burri’s work, a colour made up of infinite smudgings and deep shadows. Black is never just itself. More than any other colour it alludes to the concrete yet indefinable construction of form’ (R. Miracco, quoted in Beyond Painting: Burri, Fontana, Manzoni, exh. cat. Tate, London 2005, p. 32). In the Plastiche, moreover, it took on an important material significance, its chemical make-up causing it to burn with extreme velocity and demanding and exceptional level of skill in its handling. Indeed, as noted in the catalogue for Burri’s Guggenheim retrospective, ‘the black group includes a new category that revels in high relief and surfaces violently alive with movement’ (E. Braun and C. Stingari, ‘Combustioni plastiche’, in Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting, exh. cat. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2015, p. 212).

As well as forming a key precedent for the flourishing of Arte Povera in the 1960s, Burri’s Plastiche take their place within the context of the post-war European avant-garde, where Lucio Fontana’s punctured canvases, Yves Klein’s heretical fire paintings and Cy Twombly’s violent Ferragosto cycle similarly played with the poetics of destruction. At the same time, Nero Plastica L.A. bears witness to Burri’s increasingly transatlantic outlook as he took his place on the American stage during the 1960s. In 1963, following the success of his major exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, he and his American wife purchased a house in Los Angeles—the ‘L.A.’ of the work’s title—and would spend every winter there until 1991. The work’s richly textured surface, moulded with the artist’s own hands, invites comparison with the all-over action paintings of Jackson Pollock, while its deep, dark void resonates with the cavernous, transcendental planes of Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. It is a vivid picture of Burri’s position at the centre of the 1960s art world, and an incendiary vision of his impact on generations to come. In the lick of the flame, the slate is wiped clean: art-making would never be the same again.

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