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Sotheby's London to sell an exceptional private collection of 20th century Italian art
Giorgio Morandi, Natura Morta, 1948-1949. Estimate: £600,000-800,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s announces that it will offer for sale an exceptional private collection of Italian Art that spans the whole of the 20th century. The collection, Italian Identity, which will be offered in Sotheby’s annual 20th Century Italian Art Sale on Thursday, October 13, 2011, represents all of the major developments in Italian Avant-garde art and is highlighted by the most comprehensive group of ‘Arte Povera’ ever to come to the open market. The collection, which includes pieces by Giorgio de Chirico, Giorgio Morandi, Alberto Burri, Piero Manzoni, Alighiero Boetti and Michelangelo Pistoletto, is estimated to realise in excess of £7 million. Prior to the pre-sale view in London, the collection will also be on view in Italy both in Turin and in Milan**.

Commenting on the sale of ‘Italian Identity’, Claudia Dwek, Chairman of Sotheby’s Italy, said: “The collecting category of 20th Century Italian Art, which Sotheby’s pioneered auctions in - in 1999 - has gone from strength to strength and last year Sotheby’s achieved its highest ever auction total in the field. We are delighted to bring to market such an extraordinary private collection in this category, which was assembled from the 1980s onwards over a period of 25 years, which will provide collectors in this area of the art market with the opportunity to acquire among the best Italian artworks of this era.”

Continuing to discuss the sale of the collection, Cheyenne Westphal, Head of Contemporary Art Sotheby’s Europe, commented: “This single owner collection of 20th century Italian Art is breathtaking in scope and has a depth of quality equal to many museum collections, and it comprises important and rare pieces that boast an incisive and nuanced survey of major developments in the Italian avant-garde, as well as the most comprehensive group of Arte Povera to come to auction. Following the great successes of the ‘Looking Closely’, ‘Evill Frost’ and ‘Duerckheim’ offerings this year, we also expect this outstanding and fresh-to-market private collection of contemporary art to generate tremendous excitement among the international collecting community.”

Italian Identity: An Important Private Collection:
This outstanding selection of works from an Important Private Collection presents the very best of 20th century Italian art. Spanning the full breadth of the 20th century, from Futurism and Surrealism, to Post-War and Arte Povera, this remarkable curatorial accomplishment reveals an unparalleled eye of connoisseurship and a lifelong passion for collecting.

The collection - which will be offered also at Sotheby’s Milan in November 2011 and spring 2012 - represents a unique compendium of every major artistic concept and movement that developed in Italy during the past 100 years. Comprising a diverse assembly of important paintings and sculptures, the collection contains many ground-breaking works by early 20th century Italian masters like Giacomo Balla, Mario Sironi, Alberto Savinio, and Arturo Martini, which lead into Modern masterpieces by Giorgio de Chirico, Giorgio Morandi and Marino Marini. In turn, the remarkable achievements of these pioneering artists precedes the rich creative flourishing of Italy’s post-war avant-garde, well represented here via iconic works by Alberto Burri, Salvatore Scarpitta, Piero Manzoni, Enrico Castellani and Leoncillo.

The present selection of Arte Povera from this pivotal moment in Post-War Italian art represents the most significant group of works to ever to appear at auction. Comprehensively charted within it are historically important works by the movement’s foremost artists, including Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Luciano Fabro, Mario Merz, Giulio Paolini, Pino Pascali, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Gilberto Zorio. Culturally specific, these artists shared their simultaneous rejection of consumer-society and response to the economic impact of the ‘Italian miracle’ during the post-war industrialization of Northern Italy. From the sumptuous fabrication of Fabro’s Piede (1972) & Merz’s luminescent use of neon in Teatro Cavallo (1966), through to Pascali’s monumental canvas construction Bambú (1966), their diverse sensibilities are nonetheless united by a shared concern with the poetic and conceptual capacity inherent within simple or poveri materials, processes and natural forms.

Collection Highlights:
From a series initiated in 1957 comprising nearly 60 works in total, Combustione Legno, executed during same year, is the very first combusted wooden piece produced in this large scale by the immensely influential Alberto Burri (1915-1995). Preceded only by a small experimental work significantly smaller than the present Combustione, this piece stands as the most compositionally resolved of these formative examples and is estimated at £800,000-1,200,000. The work is comparable to among the greatest examples of Burri’s combusted works held in museum collections internationally. The piece stands out for its pioneering use of red acrylic. The focus on molten red plastic was his principal and most celebrated subject from 1961. Combustione Legno represents a remarkably early example dated to the very moment Burri truly committed to combustion as an artistic procedure; a procedure moreover that would yield the most dynamic and celebrated of Burri’s works ever to be created. Having qualified as a doctor before turning to art during his detainment in an American Prisoner of War camp from 1944-45, biological and even surgical comparisons have been made to his output. Burri’s work combines formal composition and random processes to bridge the generation of the Informel to the 1960s innovation of Arte Povera.

Achrome of circa 1959 by Piero Manzoni (1933-1963), which was included in one of the earliest retrospectives for Manzoni held shortly after his death in 1963, is the ultimate expression of the artist’s central philosophy. It epitomises the very height of Manzoni’s theoretical and technical quest to liberate painting and achieve absolute autonomy for the artwork. The present work, estimated at £700,000-1,000,000, stands as one of the earliest of the Achrome series of works which the artist initiated in 1956 and continued until his untimely death in 1963, and it is the first example in which the revolutionary medium of kaolin was employed. Manzoni's prescient innovations anticipated both Conceptualism and Arte Povera, while his artistic legacy, emblemised by iconic works such as the present Achrome, became hugely influential to an array of international art trends throughout the second half of the 20th century.

Giorgio Morandi’s Natura Morta from 1948-49 is an exceptional example of the artist’s lifelong exploration of the still life genre. While displaying the artist’s characteristic understatement, the variety of form and colour in the composition render it one of his more ambitious works. Morandi has here expanded his muted palette of whites and greys, to explore the impact of red on the tonal relationships. There is an overwhelming universality to his work: these bottles, pitchers and jars are containers that have been used since time began. The seven forms huddle together, each container enjoying its own unique relationship with the other. The present work is a masterpiece in stillness, an iconic example of Morandi's extraordinarily nuanced and important artistic project, and is estimated at £600,000-800,000.

Luciano Fabro’s (1936-2007) visually imposing Piede belongs to a series of towering sculptures sumptuously fabricated from silk and glass and carries an estimate of £280,000-350,000. Executed in 1972 and first exhibited at the Venice Biennale during the same year, it comprises a willowy column of intricately pleated Shantung silk hung from the ceiling and rooted to the floor by a giant clawlike foot of luxuriant and expertly moulded Murano glass. While the artist is considered a foremost member of the Arte Povera movement, his monumental use of traditional and luxurious materials for this series ostensibly undermines the ‘poor’ material concern of Arte Povera. However, Fabro looked to evoke a totally new and unified art experience through the tactile sensory experience and a juxtaposition of materials within space. The current work, which is among the last ten of the series which had occupied the artist for four years, represents the very apogee of this remarkably formative and substantial artistic concern.

Alighiero Boetti’s (1940–1994) embroided tapestry Mappa, was executed in 1983 and is an extraordinary example of the artist’s celebrated eponymous body of work, which is regarded as the climactic achievement of his career. Embroidered with vibrant hues, Mappa is a joyful explosion of colours and shapes. In 1969, Boetti took a printed world map and patterned the countries with the hues of their respective flags, creating the first Mappa on paper, Planisfero Politico. Boetti would go on to expand the concept of Planisfero Politico into his worldrenowned series of embroidered Maps and this series would bear witness to every change that affected countries, their borders and their flags, and provides an extraordinary account of political geography from 1971 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, including the historic dissolution of the Soviet Union. The present Mappa was designed by Boetti in 1983 in his studio in Trastevere in Rome and subsequently sent to Kabul, Afghanistan to be embroidered, as the artist had been unable to visit the country since the 1979 Soviet invasion. The work embodies included for sale Boetti's artistic evolution beyond Arte Povera and his fascination with cultural 'otherness', which the artist filters through his conceptual understanding of fate and time. It is estimated at £700,000-1,000,000.

Visually thought-provoking in both scale and format, Bambú is an extremely rare and unique example of Pino Pascali’s (1935-1968) celebrated series of ‘white sculptures’ or finte sculture. Produced in 1966, this work emerged during a pivotal year for Pascali. The finte sculture represent a movement away from the overtly political towards a heightened commitment to art informed by natural forms. Sculpturally substantial and devoid of colour, the monochrome surface evokes the purity and solidity of alabaster or Carrara marble, and yet, the material construction of Bambú contradicts its appearance. White canvas stretched over a column of lightweight wooden ribs, Bambú is indebted to the work of Lucio Fontana and Enrico Castellani, in negotiating between the two-dimensionality of the canvas-stretcher and the three-dimensionality of sculpture. The relationship between Arte Povera and Pop is one of simultaneous appreciation and rejection; this dichotomy is evident in Pascali’s work through a tension between the mass-produced aesthetic of Pop and the craftsmanship and typically Italian concerns of Arte Povera. Pascali, the emerging star of the Roman art-world in the mid-1960s, enjoyed a remarkable if short career and thus the presentation of a monumental work for public sale is a rare occasion. Produced at the pinnacle of this artist’s tragically truncated oeuvre, never before reproduced, and appearing in public for the first time since 1975, the monumental Bambú embodies the success of 1966 for Pascali. The work is estimated at £600,000-800,000.

Muro from 1967 by Michelangelo Pistoletto (b. 1933) is a rare example of his famous and highly significant Quadri Specchianti, or Mirror Paintings and is a seminal model for post-Modernism. The most important series within the artist’s oeuvre, these works explore art’s ability to mirror the dynamism and mutability of life. Pistoletto discovered the potential of reflection as a means of creating a meaningful true image, projecting himself and the viewer through time and space into the same composition. Having first experimented with surface reflection in 1956 with a series of self-portraits on varnished and shiny backgrounds, Pistoletto refined his method from 1961 instead using highly polished stainless steel onto which painted tissue paper was grafted. Muro carries an estimate of £300,000-400,000.

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