Property from a Private Important European Collection
‘I have never had an obsessive relationship, as some have said, with the materials I have worked with over the years. What I’ve sought to draw out of them is only their property. Iron, for example, suggested a sense of hardness, weight, sharpness. I was not interested in “representing” iron. It was immediately obvious that the material was iron. I wanted instead to explain what iron was capable of’
‘In his encounter with his materials, Burri recognized that he was dealing with independent entities. Obviously he chose his materials, but then he came under the spell of their expressive possibilities. The artist’s hand was activated by something happening in real life, and the result was a direct interchange between the artist and his materials’
An imposing and beautiful patchwork forged from jagged panes of soldered metal, Ferro T (1959) is an awe-inspiring creation from Alberto Burri’s celebrated series of Ferri (‘Irons’). It has been shown in major group and solo exhibitions around the world over the past six decades, from Venice’s Palazzo Grassi to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The Ferri, large-scale works executed in the late 1950s, represent an important evolution from the stitched and sutured Sacchi (‘Sacks’) that Burri had begun making at the start of the decade. Where he had previously worked with materials already damaged and worn by their time in the real world, with the Ferri the artist took sheets of newly rolled iron and submitted them to a series of processes that allowed him to command the weathering from start to finish. By soldering, blasting, cutting and fusing the metal before mounting it on wood panel, he created dramatic scapes of scorched surface and raw, sharp edge that confront the viewer with visceral immediacy. Ferro T plunges from smooth planes to gaping fissures and delicately soldered seams, and is almost baroque in its variegated lesions, abrasions and welts. Its colours range from matt, carbonised darkness to flashes of rough-hewn silver, bronze, and gold, mottled browns, and a lush halo of rainbow-like oxidation. The play of light activates the surface with glints and shadows as the viewer shifts in space. Through the terse force of his compositional organisation, Burri displays the material in all its splendour and diversity. His use of welded iron reflects the age of mechanised industry, while also echoing the damaged landscapes of postwar Italy and the atmosphere of existential angst that hung over much of the European avant-garde during this period. In Burri’s powerful and unique idiom, painting does not mimic reality: real-world matter is made painterly. ‘I was not interested in “representing” iron’, he said of his Ferri. ‘It was immediately obvious that the material was iron. I wanted instead to explain what iron was capable of’ (A. Burri, quoted in G. Serafini, Burri: The Measure and the Phenomenon, Milan, 1999, p. 160).
Reflecting upon his works’ intense sense of objecthood, Burri explained that ‘I have no need for words when I try to express my ideas about my painting. Because my painting is an irreducible presence which refuses to be converted into any other form of expression ... All I can say is this: for me painting is a freedom I have achieved and constantly consolidated and defended with care in order to draw from it the strength to paint more’ (A. Burri, 1955, quoted in G. Serafini, Burri: The Measure and the Phenomenon, Milan, 1999, p. 114). This unwillingness to ‘translate’ his works extends to Burri’s titles, which are descriptive only in a minimal, literal sense, allowing no room for interpretation or misinterpretation; they seal the works hermetically, referring only to their materials. Confronting us with Ferro T, Burri exults in the very essence of the metal, real, irreducible and unavoidable. Without recourse to the traditional means of brush, canvas and illusion, he has ‘painted’ with fire and iron, creating a tight, balanced composition with all the compelling pictorial logic of a great abstract painting.
With works like Ferro T, Burri furthered his revolutionary exploration of new and alternative modes to the traditional mark-making that had been favoured throughout Western art history. He accorded the direct use of material the urgency of a moral imperative. His art was far more technically radical – and no less expressive – than the gestural painting pioneered by his contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic, such as the European proponents of Art Informel and the Abstract Expressionists in America. Beyond his engagement with iron, he also burnt and shaped wood and plastics in his Combustione works of the same period, making art that was utterly without parallel at the time. The act of sewing in his Sacchi, which recalled the sutures of medicine as well as handicrafts associated with femininity, provided an intriguing counterpoint to the machismo and frenetic application of many of his Action Painter contemporaries. Even in the hard, heavy metal of Ferro T, those echoes of stitching and healing remain in the soldering that is so evident on the surface. The scored, scraped and blemished metal itself becomes a body of gashes and scars, hinting at Burri’s original medical vocation as a military surgeon in the Italian army, first in the mid-1930s and later in the Second World War, where he was captured and interned as a prisoner of war in Hereford, Texas for five years. It also echoes the wrecked buildings and military hardware of the ravaged Italian landscape to which he returned after the war was over. In his Sacchi and Ferri alike, Burri echoed these wounds and ruins not in a statement of despair, but rather in a curative vision that acknowledged the violence of his time. His works are an avowal of creation coming from destruction. Moving on from burlap, paint and tattered fabric, in Ferro T’s twisted, cut, soldered, nailed, burnt and shorn metal Burri carved out a powerful new artistic language.
The Ferri’s impact on contemporary art was huge, and went well beyond Burri’s direct legacy in the Arte Povera movement that swept Italy from the 1960s onwards. The grand, architectural charisma of Richard Serra’s sculptures, Lucio Fontana’s slashed, scintillating reflections on the highrise skylines of New York, and even Yves Klein’s celebrated 1961 series of Fire Paintings, made using an industrial blowtorch, all drew on Burri’s innovations. Beyond his own concern with themes of postwar reconstruction, Ferro T, with its peacock diversity of reactive hues, striking shadows and rich textures, is a resplendent demonstration of the endless new formal possibilities that Burri’s engagement with realworld materials opened up. As grand a presence as Ferro T commands, it also stands as a reminder that materials are subject to change. Iron, after all, is an element, one which reacts with air in oxidation and heat in a shift of state. Ferro T’s solders, welds and tarnishes are the visible relics of a transformation from solid to liquid and back again. These alchemical traces conjure a noble beauty that is shot through with captivating tension. Burning can wreak devastation and ruin, and yet in Ferro T has become a phoenix-like force of change, salvaging scrap and granting it an iconic apotheosis. Those who live beneath volcanoes are well aware of both the destructive and fertilising powers of fire. Like Vulcan in his forge, Burri takes iron, flame and light as his means of creation, determined to rejuvenate a world that still bore the scars of the flames of war.
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
Property from a Private Important European Collection
signed, titled and dated 'FERRO T. Burri 59' (on the reverse)
Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
Turin, Palazzo Graneri, Arte Nuova. Esposizione internazionale di pittura e scultura, 1959, p. 101, no. 9 (illustrated, p. 29).
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Vitalità nell'arte, 1959-1960, p. 15. This exhibition later travelled to Recklinghausen, Kunsthalle and Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, École de Paris, 1960, no. 104 (illustrated, unpaged).
Rome, Marlborough Galleria d'Arte, Burri, 1962-1964. This exhibition later travelled to London, Marlborough Gallery and New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery.
Darmstadt, Kunsthalle Darmstadt, Alberto Burri, 1967, no. 57 (illustrated; detail illustrated, unpaged).
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Alberto Burri, 1967, no. 50, p. 39.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Metamorphose des Dinges. Kunst und Antikunst 1910-1970, 1971-1972, p. 164, no. 126 (illustrated, p. 114). This exhibition later travelled to Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen; Berlin, Nationalgalerie; Milan, Palazzo Reale and Basel, Kunsthalle Basel.
Budapest, Szepmuveszeti Museum, Müveszeti Torekvesek Olaszorszban 1930-1968, 1975, no. 38 (illustrated, p. 26).
New York, Sperone Westwater, Against Nature: Burri, Fontana, Manzoni, 2000.
E. Crispolti, Burri. Un Saggio e tre note, Milan 1961, fig. I (studio view illustrated with detail of work, unpaged).
G. Marchiori & M. Drudi Gambillo, I Ferri di Burri, Rome 1961 (illustrated, p. 27).
M. Volpi, 'Appunti sull'interpretazione critica di Burri', in Arte Oggi, no. 10, Rome 1961 (illustrated, p. 17).
C. Brandi, Burri, Rome 1963, no. 280 (illustrated, p. 214).
M. Calvesi, Alberto Burri, Milan 1971, p. 24, no. 135 (illustrated, unpaged).
M. Calvesi, Alberto Burri, New York 1975, p. 31, no. 135 (illustrated, unpaged).
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Burri, Città di Castello 1990, pp. 156 and 488, nos. 651 and 59.28 (illustrated, p. 157).
E. Villa, Pittura dell'ultimo giorno. Scritti per Alberto Burri, Florence 1996 (illustrated, p. 25).
M. De Sabbata, Burri e l'informale, Florence 2008, p. 75, no. 45 (illustrated in colour, p. 74).
B. Corà (ed.), Alberto Burri. General Catalogue Painting 1958-1978, Vol. II, Cittá di Castello 2015, p. 393, no. 795 (illustrated in colour, p. 78).
R. Olivieri & C. Sarteanesi (eds.), Alberto Burri. General Catalogue Chronological Repertory 1945-1994, Vol. VI, Cittá di Castello 2015, no. i.5928 (illustrated in colour, p. 132).
Marlborough Galleria d'Arte, Rome.
Galleria Blu, Milan.
Private Collection, Los Angeles.
Private Collection, Japan.
Gian Enzo Sperone, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.