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Sotheby's London announces highlights from its Italian Sale
Alberto Burri, Rosso Plastica 5, 1962 plastic, acrylic, vinavil and combustion on canvas, 70 by 100 cm £4-6m / €4.6-6.9m / US$5.3-7.9m. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- “The Italian Sale” at Sotheby’s London will present outstanding pieces by Modern and Contemporary Italian masters on 7 October 2016. Seminal works by Giorgio Morandi and Marino Marini are joined by an exceptional example from Alberto Burri’s celebrated Plastiche series and Salvatore Scarpitta’s striking 1959 Forager for Plankton. Works by Enrico Castellani include the only surviving panel from his ground-breaking installation Ambiente Bianco, unveiled at Lo spazio dell’immagine, a radical exhibition that heralded a pivotal moment in the development of the post-war avant-garde in 1967.

The sale also features four works from the renowned collection of Paolo and Alida Giuli. Having bridged the gap between gallerist, collector, tastemaker, and curator, Paolo Giuli is considered one of the most important figures in 20th-century Italian art. The four works offered at Sotheby’s are microcosmic of his extraordinary collection and are as aesthetically impactful as they are contextually important.

ALBERTO BURRI Rosso Plastica 5, 1962 plastic, acrylic, vinavil and combustion on canvas, 70 by 100 cm £4-6m / €4.6-6.9m / US$5.3-7.9m
Rosso Plastica 5 is a supreme example of one of Alberto Burri’s most celebrated series, the Plastiche. Employing the destructive power of fire as a transformative tool, Burri created some of the most enthralling and ground-breaking works of the post-war period.

Both compositionally and chromatically, Rosso Plastica 5 ranks alongside the finest Plastiche, of which many are today housed in esteemed public and private collections. Redolent of an existential but living body, lacerated and tortured in the wake of war’s atrocities, Burri’s gaping apertures of molten red plastic form a cathartic repost to the psycho-social wound of post-war Europe. In the words of legendary curator James Johnson Sweeney: “Burri transforms rags into a metaphor for bleeding human flesh, breathes fresh life into the inanimate materials which he employs, making them live and bleed”.

SALVATORE SCARPITTA Forager for Plankton, 1959 bandages and mixed media on canvas, 128 by 104 cm £1-1.5m / €1.2-1.7m / US$1.3-2m
Executed in 1959, the year of the artist’s first solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, Forager for Plankton dates from a seminal moment in Scarpitta’s noteworthy career. With its sculptural strands of crimson bandages, weighed down by sand and resin, the present work forms part of the artist’s pioneering series of “torn” paintings, first initiated in Rome in 1957. The monumental scale and dramatic vibrancy make Forager for Plankton a true masterpiece of this revered and ambitious corpus.

Born in New York, the American-Italian artist travelled to Italy in 1937 to train as a painter. Two decades later and following his time as a “Monuments Man” during the Second World War, two critically acclaimed solo shows at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan and at the Galleria La Tartaruga in Rome in Rome in 1957 marked his artistic breakthrough. A year later an introduction to Leo Castelli in Rome proved invaluable for Scarpitta’s career, prompting the artist’s return to New York in 1958. He was quickly welcomed into Castelli’s fold and had his first solo show at the revered New York gallery the following year.

MIMMO ROTELLA Avventuroso 2, 1962 décollage on canvas, 172 by 124.3 cm £400,000-600,000 / €463,000-695,000 / US$530,000-790,000
Avventuroso 2 is a fiercely dynamic blend of text, photography, line and colour that exemplifies Mimmo Rotella’s avant-garde approach. Rotella had begun to make his décollage works as early as 1953. In their production, he raided the advertising posters of Rome armed with a pen knife, before taking them back to his studio and engaging a laborious process of layering up and tearing away, eventually resulting in the diaphanous patchwork effect endemic to the present picture. They are engaging, vibrant, vigorous works that have taken a position of supreme importance within the art-historical discourse of the 20th-century. Avventuroso 2 is further important, even amongst their number: it was exhibited at the 1963 Tokyo Biennale, and has been in the same private collection since 1972.

MARINO MARINI Grande Teatro, 1958-60 oil on canvas, 170.5 by 170.5cm £600,000-800,000 / €695,000-925,000 / US$ 790,000-1.1m
Monumental in scope and scale, Grande Teatro is a magnificent depiction of the themes of paramount importance to Marino Marini’s art: that of the horse and rider. Within Marini’s oeuvre the horse is imbued with an undeniable grandeur, serving as a universal signifier of power and strength. The subject is also rich in
classical association, referencing the tradition of equestrian statuary in Italian artistic and political culture from the Renaissance.

The importance of Grande Teatro is further attested to by its extensive and distinguished exhibition history. It was exhibited at the first major show of Marini’s paintings at the Toninelli Arte Moderna Gallery in Milan between 1963 and 1964; it was this show which revealed Marini to the international public as a highly gifted and skilled painter in addition to his already well-known work as a sculptor.

ENRICO CASTELLANI Superficie Bianca, 1967 acrylic on shaped canvas, 180 by 320 by 5.5 cm £1.2-1.6m / €1.4-1.9m / US$1.6-2.1m
Enrico Castellani’s career reached a crescendo in 1967 with his ground-breaking installation piece Ambiente Bianco (White Environment). Created for the legendary Lo spazio dell’immagine, an ambitious show that took place in the Renaissance environs of Palazzo Trinci in Foligno, Ambiente Bianco presented an immersive pure-white environment entirely enclosed by Castellani’s inimitable Superficie canvases.

The exhibition heralded a pivotal moment in the development of the post-war avant-garde, not only in Europe, but also across the globe. Comprising a suite of 19 site-specific environments created by the most prevalent names in contemporary European art, this exhibition telescoped the pioneering dialogue between image and space.

Dismantled after the four-month exhibition came to an end and reportedly destroyed thereafter, the present work is the only remaining piece of this historic installation to have survived. Spanning an impressive three meters in length, this was one of the key panels of Castellani’s architectonic painting. Hidden away since its landmark debut in 1967, the survival and revered history of Superficie Bianca mark it as an artwork of utmost importance and rarity.

PIERO MANZONI Achrome, circa 1958 kaolin on pleated canvas, 40 by 60 cm £700,000-1m / €810,000-1.2m / US$925,000-1.3m
Achrome is one of the most exquisite examples from Manzoni’s most renowned body of work. First initiated in 1957 the Achromes are a tabula rasa, emancipated and emptied of narrative, expression, allegory and allusion. Revered among the most radical conceptual gestures of 20th-century art, they continue to be a revolutionary and insurmountable presence within contemporary art today.

As Manzoni propounded in 1960: “I am quite unable to understand those painters who, whilst declaring an active interest in modern problems, still continue even today to confront a painting as if it was a surface to be filled with colour and forms...Why shouldn’t this surface be freed. Why not seek to discover the unlimited meaning of total space, of pure and absolute light.”

ALIGHIERO BOETTI La primavera dell’anno millenovecentonovanta, 1990 embroidered tapestry, 121.7 by 222.3 by 4.5 cm £1.2-1.8m / €1.4-2.1m / US$1.6-2.4m
Alighiero Boetti’s iconic series of Mappe attest to the world’s ever changing political landscape. Produced in transcontinental collaboration with female Afghan weavers between 1971 and 1994, Boetti’s Mappe delineate an iconoclastic cartography of global relations, stretching from 1971 through to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Seen as a whole over the course of more than twenty years, the Mappe can be viewed as historical documents highlighting the fluctuations that affected countries and their borders.

GIORGIO MORANDI Natura morta, 1953 oil on canvas, 37 by 38.5cm £600,000-800,000 / €695,000-925,000 / US$790,000-1.1m
Morandi’s 1953 painting Natura Morta is an elegant rendering of the still life subject that was central to the artist’s explorations of the visible world. Following the development of this key theme in his paintings of the war years, in the early 1950s Morandi continued working towards a heightened simplicity and purity of form. His search for new compositional variations through the precise placement of jugs, bottles and boxes, remained of central importance and he began working groups of objects into compact, often flattened and centralised, formations rendered in the lighter palette that is seen in the present work.

This carefully reiterated choreography of objects was central to Morandi’s work. Vases and jugs appear and re-appear throughout the years – the coffee-tin with the painted oval, for example, features throughout his work of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The objects were often covered with a layer of dust that shifted and altered, blurring the edges of the objects and offering a hushed sense of passing time.

Having bridged the gap between gallerist, collector, tastemaker, and curator, Paolo Giuli is rightly considered one of the most important figures in 20th-century Italian art. Motivated by extraordinary passion and creative verve, his artistic endeavours were marked by conceptual daring, an aesthetic eye, and an ability to identify the most significant or important works from any given artist’s oeuvre.

Giuli’s engagement with the Italian avant-garde began in Milan, after he was encouraged to move to the city by Lucio Fontana in 1965. Then in the early ‘70s, Giuli moved north to Lecco, and opened his eponymous gallery from 1972 until 1984, presenting prestigious solo exhibitions for artists such as François Morellet, Kenneth Noland, Agostino Bonalumi, and Enrico Castellani.

Works from the Giuli collection have been exhibited in many of the most prestigious museums in the world such as the Centre Georges Pompidou, Tate Modern, and the Museum of Modern Art. The four works offered at Sotheby’s are microcosmic of his extraordinary collection, as aesthetically impactful as they are contextually important. They are each appearing at auction for the first time and are each presented with immaculate provenance, often having been acquired directly from the artist.

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