LondonAction | Abstraction: Alberto Burri & Lucio Fontana
Panel Discussion: Alberto Burri’s Radical Legacy, moderated by Tim Marlow at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Thursday 7 March, 4.30pm. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org
This exhibition sets out to recapture one of the most dramatic periods of Post-War art in Italy.
The selection of works by the avant-garde artists Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana shed light on how the trauma and destruction of two world wars spurred these artists to reject representation and to return to primordial forms of communication through material and gesture – in Fontana’s case, through a simple but supremely effective piercing of the canvas surface and, in Burri’s case, a radical and sometimes violent reimagining of the expressive potential of traditionally ‘non-artistic’ materials. The show shines a light on the correspondences and convergences between these artists who, despite their vastly differing aesthetics, now stand together as luminaries of material- based abstraction and an inspiration to an entire generation of artists who grew up in their shadow. Tornabuoni Art explores their work in a tightly curated selection of highlights on display in the London gallery.
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Both artists are being honoured with institutional exhibitions this year. The Metropolitan Museum in New York is staging a survey show of Lucio Fontana’s work (23 January – 14 April) to which Tornabuoni Art has loaned works.
Meanwhile, the Fondazione Alberto Burri and Venice’s Fondazione Giorgio Cini, with the collaboration of Tornabuoni Art and Paola Sapone, are staging a museum quality survey of Burri’s work to coincide with the Venice Biennale. This exhibition includes rarely-seen works as well as a new scholarly catalogue. This is the culmination of Tornabuoni Art’s year-long cultural programme dedicated to Burri and designed to further the public’s understanding of his work, which has included a scholarly catalogue devoted to the artists’ Plastiche series and a survey show at Tornabuoni Art’s Paris space in the autumn of 2018.
The legacy of Alberto Burri will also be explored in a conference at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, on 7th March, moderated by Tim Marlow, Director of Programmes at the RA, and with professor Bruno Corà, President of the Alberto Burri Foundation; professor Luca Massimo Barbero, Director of the Art History Institute at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini; and professor Bernard Blistène, Director of the Centre Pompidou.
Between the First and Second World Wars, much of Italy’s artistic production was subject to the needs of Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship, which reduced art to the propagandistic function of promoting the values of the regime. After the war, however, artists such as Burri (who had served in the Italian army), and Fontana pushed for an aesthetic renewal that called into question the very meaning of making art, as well as its function within society. In 1947, Fontana published his Manifesto Bianco – the founding text of Spatialism – while Burri opened his first solo show at La Margherita gallery in Rome. Their newfound freedom of expression and the rejection of figuration were the cornerstones of Post-War art.
Through the simple gesture of piercing or slicing the canvas, Fontana boldly announced to the world, and to a future generation of artists, that the canvas was much more than a mere pictorial plane. He transformed his art into pure space, opening up a new dimension beyond the surface of the canvas and addressing expansive concepts of time and infinity during the age of space exploration. Fontana’s works exist outside of time, they defy language and social constructs and arguably represent the pinnacle of the artist’s quest to achieve the finest expression of purity and absolute abstraction.
In Alberto Burri’s work, charred wood, tar, pumice stone, metal, sutured burlap sacks, plastic and cellotex appear in almost inconceivably harmonious arrangements, while his preferred violent and oftentimes destructive processes point towards new beginnings, like a phoenix emerging from its own ashes. Fire, perhaps the most primeval of all destructive forces, became an agent of creation as Burri burnt, singed and melted plastic sheeting into sublimely beautiful and abstract compositions.
Though completely different from Fontana’s works, the tension between destruction and creation, between material and void, suggests a kind of kindred artistic spirit shared by these two artists.
ALBERTO BURRI (Città di Castello, 1915 – Nice 1995) was sent to fight in World War II after graduating from medical school in 1940. Allied forces captured him in 1943 in Tunisia and sent him to Texas where he started developing a highly experimental artistic practice. From 1949, he began to use burlap as a substitute for canvas. In 1951 he founded the Origine group. Featuring common and humble materials dissolved by re, attacked by mould, corroded or consumed by time, his works are “damaged” by the same artistic gesture that transforms them, leaving a residual image, whose very production is illustrated in the work itself. Burri’s work was exhibited at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1972 and then at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in New York, in 2015-16. In 1981 he opened the Burri Foundation – a permanent collection of the works that the artist donated to his hometown of Città di Castello.
LUCIO FONTANA (Rosario de Santa Fé, 1899 – Varese, 1968) spent his childhood between Europe and South America before settling in his parent’s hometown of Milan in 1927. His early works were made of terracotta, establishing the artist’s practice in sculpture and three-dimensionality. In 1940, he returned to Argentina where, in 1946, he laid out the principles of his artistic practice with the Manifesto Blanco and uncovered a new dimension in the at surface: the space beyond the canvas. By slashing his paintings Fontana liberated the artist from the confines of the at canvas surface and set the principles of Spatialism. In the early 1960s, Fontana fully embraced the monochrome, looking for purity and regularity in order to overcome the chaos of Informal Art. Following his death, many exhibitions were organised in important museums, such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris (1987), the Guggenheim in New York (1994) and the Metropolitan Museum in New York (2019). His works are housed in all major museum collections including the Centre Pompidou, the Tate (London) and the MoMA (New York).Courtesy of Tornabuoni Art