Burri in New York


Contemporary Art

I recently visited an extraordinary exhibition, set in an equally stunning museum: the Guggenheim in NY. That’s the location chosen by curator Emily Braun for ‘The Trauma of Painting’, a large retrospective focused on Italian painter and sculptor Alberto Burri, the first in the US after 35 years and the most comprehensive to date nonetheless.

The set up itself has contributed to making this event truly special: six ascending ramps stretching trough the Guggenheim’s Rotunda in which Bucci’s life path was chronologically and stylistically unveiled to the public through the use of different supports, surfaces and colours. Braun herself explained some time ago in an interview for Italian newspaper La Stampa that her choice of Burri’s artwork was carried out according also to the spiral-shaped space in Frank Lloyd Wright’s rotunda in which it was going to be showcased. The ramp represented the perfect solution to reveal a bit more of the artist at each turn, and I guarantee it worked. But who was Alberto Burri?

Born a century ago in Città di Castello, Burri was a medical officer during WW2. After being taken prisoner in Tunisia, he was confined by the US army to the Hereford POW concentration camp in Texas together with Giuseppe Berto and Beppe Niccolai, where he started painting. An artistic journey defined by elements taken from everyday life, stemmed from an indelible brutal ordeal, where he experienced starvation and extreme misery. Burri has been called a master in the poetic exploration of matter, a relentless appreciator of simple materials, thanks to which he created a new language, made of raw objects, each one with its own identity. Minimising the use of paints and brushes, he was always more keen on working with surfaces, stitches, combustions and lacerations.

This great Umbria-born artist is today renowned around the world for its ‘Sacchi’ series, made of patched-up burlap sacks and ripped canvas: a pioneering work, with a defined style and a material approach. Among the series lesser-known to the American public there are ‘Catrami’, ‘Muffe’, ‘Gobbi’, ‘Bianchi’, ‘Legni’, ‘Ferri’, ‘Combustioni Plastiche’ and ‘Cretti e Cellotex’, which are presented in all their depth at the Guggenheim, a deserved and righteous homage paid to an amazing artist.