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Superficie bianca

Superficie bianca
signed and dated 'Castellani 1963' (on the stretcher)
acrylic on shaped canvas
31 ½ x 23 ½in. (80 x 60cm.)
Executed in 1963
Galleria dell'Ariete, Milan.
Morton Neumann, Chicago, and thence by descent to the present owner.

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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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Post Lot Text
The work will be registered in the Archivio Enrico Castellani, Milan.

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Annemijn van Grimbergen
Annemijn van Grimbergen

Lot Essay

‘A white empty surface is the most abstract thing one can possible imagine’ (E. Castellani, quoted in G. Celant (ed.), Enrico Castellani, exh. cat., Fondazione Prada, Milan, 2001, p. 17).

Like Lucio Fontana’s Tagli and Piero Manzonis’ Achromes, Enrico Castellani’s Superfci (surfaces) are a landmark series of works that, together with the Tagli and the Achromes, provided the creative ground zero out of which much of the most important art of the 1960s and 70s in Italy was built. Superfcie bianca (White Surface) is an immaculate example of this stylish and groundbreaking series of works made by Castellani in 1963.

Castellani’s Superfci (Surfaces) were the artist’s elegant solution and material response to his call, first voiced in the magazine Azimuth that he founded in Milan with Manzoni in 1959, for an elemental art based solely on the concepts of space, light and time. In a move similar to the autonomous technique applied in Manzoni’s Achromes where blank canvases dipped in Kaolin came to form self-defining entities wholly, independent from the artist, but asserting their own materiality and existential presence, Castellani developed an equally authorless and arbitrary approach in the creation of his Superfci.

Following his mentor Lucio Fontana’s radical break with tradition by, instead of adding to the painting’s surface, actively operating on the space around the picture, Castellani evolved a technique of spatially distorting the fat, empty monochrome surface of the painting by stretching it over a systematically prepared relief background of nails. These, indented into the rear of the canvas transformed the canvas’ traditionally fat, two-dimensional surface into an undulating arena of play between, light and shade, and between positive and negative depth. In some respects these new Superfci echoed some of the developments made around the same time by the Group Zero artists in Dusseldorf, with whom Castellani and Manzoni were in close contact during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. The geometric regularity of the Superfci’s patterning intentionally added to the impression of the entire work being a holistic entity and, as both a microcosm and a macrocosm, it could then be conceived of as a model of our concept of both infinity and the void.

This sense of infinity was intrinsic to Castellani’s use of monochrome surfaces which he asserted had to be as ‘immaterial as possible’. Through this conjunction of the heavy materiality of the back and the ultimate sense of ‘immateriality’ expressed by the almost architectural nature of the work as a whole, a two dimensional surface transformed into a three-dimensional object, now became a harmonious unit. And, as in Superfci bianca, this sense of infinity and immateriality was reinforced by Castellani’s strong achromatic approach. For this reason Castellani, like Manzoni, embraced white as an achromatic, non-colour that best articulated his conceptual aims. ‘White’, Castellani said, was ‘for me ...not a colour, but rather the absence of colour. Just as in the treatment of the surfaces of my works I seek to create something as objective as possible, the same applies to colour. White is the colour, or rather the non-colour, that makes this objectification as perceptible as possible’ (E. Castellani, quoted in Enrico Castellani Work from 1958 – 1970, exh. cat., Kettle’s Yard Gallery, Cambridge, 2002, p. 27).

It is in this way that ‘surfaces’ such as Superfci Bianca come to stand not as paintings but as what Donald Judd, who in 1965, famously singled out Castellani’s Superfci and Yves Klein’s Monochromes as being the two most important series of works being made in Europe at this time, came to describe as ‘specific objects’. 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. They are objects that materially assert themselves in a specific time and space, but which also point to, invoke and are left open to the immaterial and infinite realm of the void. In this respect too, they are, as Castellani himself pointed out, ‘invitations to contemplation,’ something akin, he said, to the elaborate abstraction of much Islamic art and architecture. ‘It should be pointed out’, Castellani said, ‘that my ‘surfaces’, because of their regularity of composition and lack of imagery, can be easily and rather properly interpreted as invitations to contemplation, although this peculiarity does not cover the full range of my problematics and is indeed only one result of it, on a level with certain elements of religious architecture, especially Muslim. I’m referring on the one hand to my so-called canopied and angular surfaces, and on the other to the ‘doors’ of mosques, which have only the metaphysical value of ‘passage’ to liken them to doors of entrances, whereas in reality they are a concave, curvilinear, or niche, functioning in fact as a space for mystical contemplation’ (E. Castellani, quoted in G. Celant, (ed.), Enrico Castellani, exh. cat., Fondazione Prada, Milan, 2001, pp. 15-16).

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