Executed in 1954, Sacco forms part of Alberto Burri's most celebrated group of works, the sackcloth collages that he began creating in 1949 and which resulted in his international recognition. Sacco presents the viewer with a strange wealth of poor materials. The sackcloth that has given the work its title has been arranged by Burri to form a composition that recalls his interest in Malevich, and yet the result is a rich and emphatic materiality that is underscored by the areas of red and of gold. This is not a picture, not a representation, but instead comprises items from the real world, arranged so as to bring to the fore their various qualities. Discussing his Sacchi and their inclusion, rather than depiction, of the real world and of real sackcloth, Burri explained:
'Sacking... is the compendium of the ideal psychological reasons, of the reasons of form and colour. I could obtain the same shade of brown, but it wouldn't be the same because it wouldn't contain everything I want it to contain... It must respond as a surface, as a material, and as an idea. In sacking I find a perfect match between shade, material and idea that would be impossible to paint' (Burri in 1956, quoted in G. Serafini, Burri: The Measure and the Phenomenon, Milan, 1999, p. 160).
Placing these materials in an artistic content forces the viewer to reappraise them, to consider them in light of their own inherent beauty. Yet the deliberately tattered aesthetic also appears to recall the atmosphere in Italy in the wake of the destruction of the Second World War. Indeed, the stencilling on the material to the bottom right of Sacco recalls Burri's first work involving collage, SZ1, executed in 1949, and like its predecessor invokes the American aid packages that had sustained Italy during the reconstruction. However, Burri's pictures are filled with an enthusiastic optimism. They celebrate the humblest of materials as trophies of our day to day reality. And this optimism has another origin and aspect: Burri, who had originally qualified as a doctor, had been imprisoned during the Second World War when serving as a medical officer. During his internment in the United States, he had gradually turned to painting rather than medicine, cutting himself off from his pre-War past. Thus the act of sewing these materials together and the scars that litter the surface of Sacco speak of recovery, of healing, of moving on.
Burlap, linen, oil and gold paint on board
PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Alberto Burri , 20th Century, Paintings, mixed media, Italy, Post War, abstract
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
13 x 15¼in. (33 x 38.8cm.)
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Burri, Contributi al Catalogo Sistematico, Città di Castello 1990, no. 268 (illustrated, p. 70).
Ettore Colla Collection, Rome.
Illa Kodicek Collection, London (acquired from the above in 1968).
The Kodicek Collection of Modern Pictures sale, Christie's London, 23 June 1993, lot 335.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.