ALBERTO BURRI: THE TRAUMA OF PAINTING
Rosso gobbo (Red Hunchback), 1953
Acrylic, fabric, and resin on canvas; metal rod on verso, 56.5 x 85 cm
Private collection, Rome
© Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/2015
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome
Guggenheim Presents Major Alberto Burri Retrospective
First Comprehensive Exhibition in the United States Devoted to the Italian Artist in Nearly 40
YearsExhibition: Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting
Venue: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
Location: Full rotunda
Dates: October 9, 2015–January 6, 2016
Media Preview: Thursday, October 8, 10 am–1 pm
(NEW YORK, NY – June 10, 2015) — From October 9, 2015, to January 6, 2016, the Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum will present a major retrospective—the first in the United States in nearly forty
years and the most comprehensive in this country—devoted to the work of Italian artist Alberto Burri
(1915–1995). Exploring the beauty and complexity of Burri’s process-based works, the exhibition
positions the artist as a central protagonist of post–World War II art and revises traditional narratives of
the cultural exchanges between the United States and Europe in the 1950s and ’60s. Burri broke with
the gestural, painted surfaces of both American Abstract Expressionism and European Art Informel by
manipulating unorthodox pigments and humble, prefabricated materials. A key figure in the transition
from collage to assemblage, Burri rarely used paint or brush in conventional ways, and instead worked
his surfaces with stitching and combustion, among other signal processes. With his torn and mended
burlap sacks, “hunchback” canvases, and melted industrial plastics, the artist often made allusions to skin
and wounds, but in a purely abstract idiom. The tactile quality of his work anticipated Post-Minimalist
and feminist art of the 1960s, while his red, black, and white “material monochromes” defied notions of
purity and reductive form associated with American formalist modernism. Bringing together more than
one hundred works, including many that have never before been seen outside of Italy, the exhibition
demonstrates how Burri blurred the line between painting and sculptural relief and created a new kind
of picture-object that directly influenced Neo-Dada, Process art, and Arte Povera.
Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting is organized by Emily Braun, Guest Curator, Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum; Distinguished Professor, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City
University of New York; and Curator, Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection, with Megan Fontanella,
Associate Curator, Collections and Provenance, and Ylinka Barotto, Curatorial Assistant, Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum. An accompanying study was led by Carol Stringari, Deputy Director and Chief
Conservator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
The Guggenheim Museum acknowledges the collaboration of the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini
Collezione Burri, Città di Castello, Italy.
“This comprehensive exhibition of the work of Alberto Burri affirms his position as a leading pioneer of
postwar European art and one of the most groundbreaking artists of his time,” stated Richard
Armstrong, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation. “Through the
scholarship of our curatorial team led by Emily Braun, the Guggenheim is bringing to light new aspects
of Burri’s experimental and innovative practice. We welcome the opportunity to reacquaint twenty-firstcentury
museumgoers with Burri’s legacy and to reexamine his impact both on his contemporaries and
on a new generation of artists.”
Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting is made possible by Lavazza.
Support is also provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
The Leadership Committee for the exhibition, chaired by Pilar Crespi Robert and Stephen Robert,
Trustee, is gratefully acknowledged for its generosity, with special thanks to Leonard and Judy Lauder
and Maurice Kanbar as well as to Luxembourg & Dayan, Richard Roth Foundation, Alice and Thomas
Tisch, Isabella Del Frate Rayburn, Larry Gagosian, Sigifredo di Canossa, Dominique Lévy, Daniela
Memmo d’Amelio, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Pellegrini Legacy Trust, ROBILANT+VOENA, Alberto and
Stefania Sabbadini, Sperone Westwater, Samir Traboulsi, Alberto and Gioietta Vitale, Baroness
Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimo, and those who wish to remain anonymous.
Additional funding is generously provided by Allegrini Winery, Mapei Group, E. L. Wiegand
Foundation, Mondriaan Fund, the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, La FondazioneNY, and the
New York State Council on the Arts.
Francesca Lavazza said: “Alberto Burri’s birth date of 1915 represents a major moment in Italian history,
marking the nation’s entrance into World War I but also the establishment of Lavazza’s longstanding
headquarters in Turin. This year Lavazza is proud to celebrate its own 120th birthday with support for
this sweeping exhibition of one of the pioneers of modernism, and by joining the Guggenheim in
showing Burri and his enduring influence upon the art world on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Burri is best known for his series of Sacchi (sacks) made of stitched and patched remnants of torn burlap
bags, in some cases combined with fragments of discarded clothing. Far less familiar to American
audiences are the artist’s other series, which this exhibition represents in depth: Catrami (tars), Muffe
(molds), Gobbi (hunchbacks, or canvases with protrusions), Bianchi (white monochromes), Legni (wood
combustions), Ferri (irons, or protruding wall reliefs made from prefabricated cold-rolled steel),
Combustioni plastiche (plastic combustions, or melted plastic sheeting), Cretti (induced craquelure, or
cracking), and Cellotex works (flayed and peeled fiberboard). The exhibition unfolds on the ramps of
the Guggenheim both chronologically and organized by series, following the artist’s movement from
one set of materials, processes, and colors to the next. Throughout his career, Burri also engaged with
the history of painting, reflecting his deep familiarity with the Renaissance art of his native Umbria. The
exhibition likewise reveals the dialogue with American Minimalism that informed his later Cretti and
Cellotex works. In addition, the installation includes an immersive new film commissioned by the
Guggenheim Museum. Dutch filmmaker Petra Noordkamp documents Burri’s singular Land art
memorial, the enormous Grande cretto (Large Cretto, 1985–89; with its last section completed
posthumously in 2014) in Gibellina, Sicily, a town devastated by a 1968 earthquake. An enormous
shroud of white cement covers the ruins, and fissures function as pathways that wind through an area of
roughly 20 acres. The film captures Grande cretto as an experiential work of art filled with a sense of
place and history.
Born in Città di Castello, Italy, in 1915, Burri trained to be a doctor and served as a medic in the Italian
army in North Africa during World War II. Following his unit’s capture in Tunisia in 1943, he was
interned at a prisoner-of-war camp in Hereford, Texas, where he began painting. After his return to Italy
in 1946, Burri devoted himself to art—a decision prompted by his firsthand experiences of war,
deprivation, and Italy’s calamitous defeat. His first solo show, at Rome’s Galleria La Margherita in 1947,
featured landscapes and still lifes. After a trip to Paris in 1948–49, he began to experiment with tarry
substances, ground pumice stone, industrial enamel paints, and metal armatures, and he formed
accretions and gashes that destroy the integrity of the picture plane. He then traumatized the very
structure of painting by puncturing, exposing, and reconstituting the support. Instead of using the
traditional cohesive piece of stretched canvas, Burri assembled his works from piecemeal rags, broken
wood veneer, welded steel sheets, or layers of melted plastic—stitching, riveting, soldering, stapling,
gluing, and burning his materials along the way. His work demolished and reconfigured the Western
pictorial tradition, while transforming the scale and affective power of modernist collage.
Though considered an Italian artist, Burri married an American dancer-choreographer, Minsa Craig,
and, beginning in 1963, resided annually in Los Angeles during the winter months. In 1978 the artist
established the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri in Città di Castello. The Fondazione
today operates two museums in his hometown that present artwork he personally installed: the Palazzo
Albizzini and the Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco. Exceptionally, the Fondazione is lending two pictures pulled
directly from its permanent collection exhibition: Grande bianco (Large White, 1952) and Grande bianco
(Large White, 1956). The former is one of three large textile collages that Robert Rauschenberg saw—
among other works—in Burri’s Rome studio in early 1953. Those three grand pictures will be reunited in
the New York presentation.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Guggenheim Museum led an in-depth conservation study of the
artworks assembled for the retrospective as well as numerous other works from the various series. The
study, which involved the efforts of a multidisciplinary team of curators, conservation scientists, and
painting, paper, objects, and textile conservators, analyzed the wide variety of original and complex
materials and working methods used by Burri in pioneering ways.
Following the presentation in New York, Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting will travel to
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, from March 5 to July 3, 2016.
Burri launched his career in Rome but exhibited his work regularly in the United States, beginning in the
early 1950s at the Allan Frumkin Gallery, Chicago, and the Stable Gallery and the Martha Jackson
Gallery, both in New York. In 1953 Guggenheim Museum director and curator James Johnson
Sweeney included Burri in the landmark exhibition Younger European Painters: A Selection, and he wrote
the first monograph on the artist (1955). Burri’s awards include a third prize at the Pittsburgh
International, Carnegie Museum of Art (1959); Premio dell’Ariete in Milan (1959); UNESCO Prize at
the São Paulo Biennial (1959); Critics’ Prize at the Venice Biennale (1960); Premio Marzotto (1965); and
Grand Prize at the São Paulo Biennial (1965). Burri’s earliest U.S. retrospectives were organized by the
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (1957), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1963). Other
major exhibitions include retrospectives at the Musée national d’art moderne, Paris (1972), and the
University of California’s Frederick S. Wight Gallery, Los Angeles (1977); the latter traveled to the
Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, San Antonio, Texas, and the Guggenheim Museum (1978). In
1994 his work was included in The Italian Metamorphosis, 1943–1968, also at the Guggenheim.
Education and Public Programs
A range of public programs—including exhibition tours, Italian neorealist films, and related family
workshops—is offered in conjunction with Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting. Highlights are listed
below, with full information and tickets available at guggenheim.org/calendar.
Dramatic Reading and Panel
Theater of War
Tuesday and Wednesday, October 27 and 28, 6:30 pm
Taking into account Alberto Burri’s experience as a prisoner of war, the Guggenheim hosts Outside the
Wire as they present an iteration of their innovative public health project, Theater of War. Esteemed
actors Zach Grenier, Amy Ryan, and John Turturro perform dramatic readings of selections from
Sophocles’s Philoctetes and Algerian Diary by Vittorio Sereni, a major Italian poet who was also a
prisoner of war during World War II. The readings will be followed by a panel discussion and town hall–
style forum addressing the various and lasting impacts of war on the human psyche. Cast subject to
change. Free with RSVP.
Thursday, November 12, 8 pm
Tom Gold Dance reimagines November Steps, a 1973 ballet choreographed by Alberto Burri’s wife,
Minsa Craig, to Tōru Takemitsu’s 1967 composition of the same name, which included set design and
costumes by Burri himself. In this rendition, dancers from the New York City Ballet perform on the
Rotunda Floor as a projection of one of Burri’s Cretti works gradually comes into formation on the stage
beneath them. $40, $30 members, $20 students.
Tuesday, December 15, 6:30 pm
Moderated by Antonio Monda, this program features a conversation with acclaimed cinema
personalities, including novelist and playwright Don DeLillo, about how Italian neorealist films have
influenced their lives and work. $20, $15 members, $10 students.
Aesthetics of Poverty: Italian Neorealist Film
Alberto Burri’s work, in its straightforward presentation of materials from life, shares with Italian
neorealist film an “aesthetic of poverty” that points to material deprivation in postwar Italy. Four
important films from this rich cinematic period are screened on select Fridays. Free with admission.
Friday, November 20, 1 pm
Paisà (Paisan), 1946, dir. Roberto Rossellini, 120 min.
Friday, December 4, 1 pm
La terra trema (The Earth Trembles), 1948, dir. Luchino Visconti, 160 min.
Friday, December 11, 1 pm
Il cielo e rosso (The Sky Is Red), 1950, dir. Claudio Gora, 99 min.
Friday, December 18, 1 pm
Il deserto rosso (Red Desert), 1964, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 117 min.
Friday, October 30, 12 pm
Carol Stringari, Deputy Director and Chief Conservator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Friday, December 11, 12 pm
Exhibition curator Emily Braun
Tour interpreted in ASL
Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting is accompanied by a 280-page, richly illustrated scholarly
exhibition catalogue that includes a five-chapter essay by Emily Braun; a text by Megan Fontanella on
Burri’s early exhibitions and collectors in the United States; and essays on each of Burri’s series, authored
by Braun and Carol Stringari, which analyze his methods and materials in depth. The publication is the
first major English monograph on Burri, contains a wealth of new research and interpretation, and will be
the standard reference on the artist for years to come. The catalogue will be available for purchase at
$65 as a hardcover edition at guggenheim.org/store.
Lavazza prides itself as Italy’s leading coffee brand and manufacturer. The company, founded in 1895,
has been led by the Lavazza family for over a century of business and currently operates in more than
ninety countries. Lavazza has recently made a second home in the United States as it expands its
presence across the globe. With a long history of support for the arts, including Renaissance art,
photography, design, and music, Lavazza joined the Guggenheim’s efforts to promote greater
understanding of Italian Futurism through the major exhibition presented in New York in 2014. Lavazza
is proud this year to celebrate its own 120th birthday with support for this sweeping retrospective of one
of the pioneers of modernism. Through its sponsorship of the exhibition Alberto Burri: The Trauma of
Painting, Lavazza supports an art movement vital to its home country of Italy while also reaching an
About the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Founded in 1937, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is dedicated to promoting the
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architecture, and design within and beyond the walls of the museum, including the Guggenheim UBS
MAP Global Art Initiative and The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative. More
information about the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation can be found at guggenheim.org.
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