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Christie's sale celebrates pioneering Italian identity with masterpieces of 20th century Italian art
Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio. Oil and glitter on canvas, 178 x 123cm. Executed in 1963. Estimate on request. © Christie’s Images Limited 2018.

LONDON.- During London’s Frieze week, Christie’s will present the second year of Thinking Italian, a sale concept that celebrates the eclecticism, rebellious iconoclasm, and sheer creativity of Italian art. This is the second edition of Thinking Italian, a showcase of the very best Italian Art of the 20th Century, which will follow Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 4 October 2018, and preludes the sale Thinking Italian: Design, scheduled in London on 17 October, which will explore the eclecticism, rigour, and creativity of 20th Century Italian design. From Umberto Boccioni and Giorgio Morandi to Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana and Salvatore Scarpitta, the sale presents a tightly curated selection of artists who paved the way for many of the artistic developments in the latter decades of the 20th century. Furthermore, this auction celebrates the ongoing 50th anniversary of the Arte Povera movement with strong selection of works by Alighiero Boetti, Giuseppe Penone and Michelangelo Pistoletto. Highlights will be showcased in London from 28 September to 4 October 2018.

Leading the auction is Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio (estimate on request). Otherworldly, monumental and profoundly universal, this work is perhaps the most lyrically and deliberately composed work of Fontana’s rare and career-defining series. Composed of seemingly sparkling, constellation-like trails of buchi, it is interspersed with larger, primal punctures that penetrate the canvas with a visceral urgency. Works from this renowned series are today housed in museum collections across the world, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, and the Museum of Contemporary in Tokyo. Equally high in museum-quality, Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio comes with distinguished provenance. Following its creation, this work entered the legendary collection of Philippe Dotrémont, a Belgian businessman who was devoted to 20th Century art, amassing a collection that encompassed masterpieces by the leading masters of modern and post-war art; including Matisse, Kandinsky and Léger, as well as Rothko and Still.

Another highlight is Salvatore Scarpitta’s High Bride of 1960, a rare large-scale monochrome relief painting from a pivotal period in the artist’s oeuvre (estimate: £1,000,000 - 1,500,000). It belongs to a series of radical and trailblazing wrapped canvas works dubbed ‘extramurals’ that challenged and significantly expanded the concept of painting in the post-war era. First conceived of in 1957 and an influence on the reductive art of Scarpitta’s Italian peers Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, the extramurals turned the tools and materials of art-making into the artwork itself.

Mariolina Bassetti, Chairman Italy, Head of Continental Europe, Post-War & Contemporary Art: “We are pleased to offer the second edition of ‘Thinking Italian’, the only auction dedicated to Italian works of art happening during Frieze week in London this season. The new brand will be reiterated across the auction calendar throughout international sales of Post-War and Contemporary Art happening in worldwide locations, from America to Asia. The dialogue and understanding of Post-War and Italian Art grows year on year, and as 2018 marks Christie’s 60th anniversary in Italy, we are excited to celebrate Italian art and culture across categories, as we will also be offering masterpieces of Italian Design in our upcoming sale Thinking Italian: Design, taking place on London on 17 October.”

Christie’s continues to hold the world record price for a work by Lucio Fontana at auction and will present a fresh selection of some of the artist’s most influential artistic creations, including two buchi, which illustrate the first artistic manifestation of Fontana’s movement, Spatialism, conceived in 1947. The present lots are early examples of Fontana’s ground-breaking buchi, showcasing the artist’s greatest practice: the act of puncturing through the surface of the canvas to create an irrevocable hole that reveals a chasm of immaterial darkness. As if gazing down at earth from space and seeing the sparkling networks of light radiating amidst the deep black of the cosmos, Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale of 1952 and 1953 present poetic constellations of holes scattered across the gleaming white surface of the canvas. Just under a decade later, Fontana extended the potential of this ground-breaking gesture by elongating his buchi so that they became long, elegant vertical slashes, or tagli. One of the most elegant iterations of Fontana’s tagli was executed in 1964, a moment when the artist was at the height of his powers. Fontana tore seven slashes through the previously sacrosanct surface, integrating a new spatial dimension into the picture plane and in so doing, significantly redefined the boundaries of painting. Discerning collectors may also appreciate the verso of this work, which is endowed with a specific autobiographical memory, as Fontana added the line, ‘Today I am having breakfast with the painter Clee’, a reference to the artist Clelia Cortemiglia, an artist who was a close friend and also student of the artist.

Fifty years from its inception, Arte Povera seems to have reached its zenith, both in Italy and abroad. It continues to have a profound impact on artists around the world, from Anish Kapoor, to Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, as well as on a younger generation of Italian artists like Maurizio Cattelan, who decided to make art after seeing a mirror self-portrait by the Arte Povera artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. This season, we are pleased to offer a mirror painting by Pistoletto from 1964 entitled: Marzia con la bambina (estimate: £1,000,000 – 1,500,000).

Another major influence on Arte Povera is the work of Alberto Burri, represented in this sale with Sacco Rosso Nero (estimate: £450,000 – 600,000). Initially owned by the Galleria L’Obelisco, one of the foremost galleries in Rome following the Second World War and an important centre for the avant-garde at this time, Sacco Nero Rosso was subsequently in the collection of the Galerie Anne Abels in Cologne, before it was acquired by the present owner in 1960. Remaining in this same collection for over half a century, this work has never-before been seen at auction and is a rare and striking example of this seminal series.

Christie’s holds all of the top ten prices for Alighiero Boetti at auction and will offer a large-scale example of the artist’s project Aerei (Planes), a seminal and instantly recognizable series executed over of works that beautifully demonstrates the maturity of Boetti’s artistic practice. Created in 1989, the present lot features a dense array of exquisitely drawn airplanes in a frenetic composition that is both visually cacophonous and elegantly orchestrated (estimate: £700,000 – 1,000,000). As further examples of this series are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, this is a chance for collectors not to miss.

The Modern section of the sale includes 2 remarkable Cubist and futurist paintings by Gino Severini which illustrate the artist’s progression in his artistic practice. The abstract shapes and rhythmic dynamic strokes in Danse de l’ours (estimate: £500,000 – 800,000), painted in 1913-1914, represent the collective dancer, lost in the exciting, sensual movements of the Grizzly Bear dance, a theme that had previously been the centre of a highly successful series of Futurist works. With excellent provenance, this work remained in the artist’s collection for over thirty years, after which it was acquired in 1975-1976 by the family of the present owner and has remained in the same private collection since. Portrait de l'Auteur, on the other hand was painted in 1916, a time in which Severini moved away from the Futurist preoccupation and turned to an interest in cubist structure, geometry, space and subject matter (estimate: £700,000 – 1,000,000). In this sense, Portrait de l’Auteur serves as a bold and confident manifestation of Severini’s new artistic direction.

Renowned Italian feminist artist Maria Lai consistently challenged societal rules and restrictions and Christie’s is pleased to be offering one of her most rare and unique works entitled Lenzuolo (Bed Sheet), executed in 1989 (estimate: £20,000–30,000). This is the first time her work is included in an auction dedicated to Italian art. Emblematic of Maria Lai’s practice and concern with the female voice, this work draws the eye to the traditions, customs and histories that remain intimately connected with the feminine experience of the women in her hometown of Ulassai, on the island of Sardinia. In these striking works that emerged in the 1980s, small rectangles of fabric punctuated by lyrical lines of black thread are sewn onto a large bed sheet, their shapes and structures resembling pages torn from a book or a diary that have then been reassembled for display by the artist. This work celebrates female artists who question traditional gendered notions of power and we are pleased to be offering it to new and discerning collectors alike.

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