This work is registered in the Archivio Enrico Castellani, Milan, under no. 65-034.
'I use monochrome surfaces, as immaterial as possible and shape to form double curves with repeated elements: a series of points in relief and points forming depressions, negative and positive poles, and a series of minimal operative interventions. They are constituted by a flat membrane, the physical characteristics of which - elasticity and spatial continuity - are not altered by the process of formation... The structures resulting from this operation are matched by others that are both equal and opposite and thus cancel each other out in the organization of spatial totality. Reality, too, always has an obverse and a reverse that, by fitting together, deny each other in turn' (Enrico Castellani quoted in G. Celant (ed.), Enrico Castellani, exh. cat., Milan, 2001, p. 243).
Superficie argento (Silver Surface) is one of the extraordinary and seemingly self-defining monochrome relief canvases known as Superfici (surfaces) with which Enrico Castellani sought to give form to an existential concept of space and an expanded concept of art in the late 1950s and early '60s. A rare and important silver monochrome work it was executed in 1965, the year in which Donald Judd in his manifesto of Minimalism, 'Specific Objects' singled out Castellani with his Superficie and Yves Klein with his 'monochromes' as being the two most important European practitioners of the minimalist and conceptual aesthetic that he himself was arguing for.
Castellani's Superficie were the elegant solution and material response to his call, first voiced in the magazine Azimuth that founded in Milan with Piero 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 Superfici.
Following his mentor Lucio Fontana's radical break with tradition, by instead of adding to the painting's surface, operated' on the space around the picture, Castellani evolved a technique of spacially distorting the 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 its two dimensional surface into an undulating arena of play between, light and shade, and between positive and negative depth. Echoing some of the developments of the Group Zero in Dusseldorf, with whom Castellani and Manzoni were also in contact, the geometric regularity of this patterning also added to the impression of the work as a holistic entirety - a microcosm and a macrocosm, and 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 whole work - a two dimensional surface transformed into a three-dimensional object - became a harmonious unit.
Contrasting the flat monochrome canvas plane with an intense grid of undulating light and shade heightened by the reflective surface of the work, Superficie argento is a rare work executed in Futuristic-looking silver that gives new animated expression animates the canvas surface in a new way. As if to heighten the extraordinary concentration of light, reflection and shadow created by the simple grid structure at the centre of the work Castellani has in this work taken the rare step of interacting with the monochrome painted surface of the work personally and has framed and segregated this three-dimensional play with a single rectangular line. Incised into the surface of the paint and effectively framing it, this Fontana-esque line penetrating the painted surface of the work generates an alternate sense of space within the picture plane. This mixing within the work of more than one dimension of space greatly anticipates Castellani's later extension of his Superfici into the realm of architecture that he developed more fully in the late 1960s and early 70s.
'My surfaces in canvas, laminated plastic or other materials, sculpturally dematerialized by the lack of colour as an element of the composition, tend to modulate themselves and accept the third dimension that makes them perceptible. Light is now a tool of this perception: contingent form and intensity are abandoned to this fortuity. But because they are no longer part of the dominion of painting or sculpture and since they may assume the character of monumentality of architecture or scale down its space, they are the reflection of the total interior space, without contradictions, to which we tend. Thus they exist - insofar as they are objects that may be assimilated instantly - for the duration of an act of communion before time confines them to their material precariousness' (Enrico Castellani quoted in G. Celant (ed.), Enrico Castellani, exh. cat., Milan, 2001, p. 149).