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Indepth Arts News:

"Enrico Castellani"
2001-04-26 until 2001-06-14
Fondazione Prada
Milan, , IT Italy

On 26 April an exhibition devoted to Enrico Castellani (Castelmassa, Rovigo, 1930) opened at Fondazione Prada, where it will continue until mid-June 2001. On this occasion the exhibition will be housed in the new space of about 1,000 sq m situated in Milan at Via Fogazzaro 36.

Curated by Germano Celant, the exhibition has been organized in collaboration with the artist and contains about seventy works from public and private collections both in Italy and abroad. The exhibition is designed to offer an in-depth account of Castellanis work.

After studying art in Brussels from 1952 onwards (painting and sculpture at the Académie des Beaux Arts), Castellani graduated in architecture from the École Nationale Supérieure in 1956. In the same year he moved to Milan where, in the autumn of 1959, together with Piero Manzoni he founded the journal Azimuth. The two issues, published in late 1959 and early 1960, contained writings and descriptions of works by such international artists as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Yves Klein and by those belonging to the Zero group such as Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, as well as Lucio Fontana, the source of inspiration for their radical renovation. In the same year, in December, Castellani and Manzoni opened the Galleria Azimuth in Milan, which, until July 1960, housed exhibitions by Italian, French and German artists such as Gianni Colombo, François Morellet and Günther Uecker whose rigorous, analytical approach to art contrasted with the then predominant movements of Abstract Expressionism and Art Informel. The intense activity of international exchange that took place at the Galleria Azimuth and its contacts with the milieu of North European art led Castellani to participate in such important exhibitions as Monochrome Malerei (Kunstmuseum, Leverkusen, 1960) and The Responsive Eye (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1965), where works were displayed that renovated the visual language, highlighting its constituent, elementary features. In this context, Castellani was, during the 1960s, one of the first artists in Italy who sought to develop a new line of research in which elements such as space, light and time played a leading role.

From a theoretical point of view, in his seminal text Continuità e nuovo, published in the journal Azimuth (no. 2, Milan, 1960), the artist identified the lines of research to follow and the aims to be achieved. A number of artists or movements - Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, Dada, Surrealism - are indicated as key factors for the birth of a new concept of art. As Castellani puts it: The semantic value of its language should be a guarantee of a consistent development of art itself in order to avoid any regression and contradictory types of experimentation, and a more coherent adhesion to the cultural reality of our times. This type of art must, in other words, be continuously in progress but potential to the point that its consumption is rapid, constant and immediate and able to create dialogues outside the intimate monologue. For the artist, the need to find new modes of expression is animated by the need for the absolute. To meet this requirement, the only possible compositional criterion is that through the possession of an elementary entity - a line, an indefinitely repeatable rhythm and a monochrome surface - it is necessary to give the works themselves the concreteness of infinity that may undergo the conjugation of time, the only comprehensible dimension, the yardstick and the justification of our spiritual needs.*

In 1959 Castellani executed his first Superficie nera in rilievo (Black Surface in Relief): this was a decisive work for the development of his art, opening up new opportunities for expression using canvases with two-dimensional surfaces. Although he was working within the ambit of the two-dimensional, in this work the artist shifted the focus of attention to the surface structured so as to create a space for expansion in which volume and void, concave and convex, positive and negative, and light and shade alternated. The technique used - it was then to become a characteristic of all his work - consisted of fastening the canvas onto reliefs built up from nails: in this way, some parts of the canvas projected outwards, in contrast to other areas which form introflexions. As the artist states: For this operation, I use monochrome surfaces, as immaterial as possible and shaped to form double curves with repeated elements: a series of points in relief and points forming depressions, negative and positive poles, and a series of minimal operative interventions. They are constituted by a flat membrane, the physical characteristics of which - elasticity and spatial continuity - are not altered by the process of formation (...) The structures resulting from this operation are matched by others that are both equal and opposite and thus cancel each other out in the organization of spatial totality. Reality, too, always has an obverse and a reverse that, by fitting together, deny each other in turn.**

Together with Alberto Burris sacks, Fontanas slashes and Manzonis achromes, the surfaces in relief constitute one of the most outstanding stylistic developments - and one of those most charged with meaning - of this period. In 1963 the artist also began to take an interest in the expressive possibilities of the diverse articulation of the monochrome surface in space: thus he made shaped and corner canvases, and diptychs and triptychs, projecting three-dimensionally. The range of colours used varied from black to red and silver to yellow, but it was white that predominated: For me white is not a colour, but rather the absence of colour. Just as in the treatment of the surfaces of my works I seek to create something as objective as possible, the same applies to colour. White is the colour, or rather the non-colour, that makes this objectification as perceptible as possible.***

Although maintaining the characteristics that came to the fore in the early 1960s, Castellanis output was, from the 1970s to the 1990s, enriched with works the style of which became more complex as far as the structures of the surfaces and the permutations of the projecting elements were concerned.

At present the artist lives and works at Celleno (Viterbo).

Castellani has participated in many important exhibitions, such as Zero, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1961; his works were exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1964 and 1966, and at the São Paulo Bienal in 1965. In 1966 and 1967 he took part in around twenty exhibitions, both one-man and group, in Italy and abroad. In 1968 he was invited to Documenta 4 at Kassel. He has participated in group exhibitions at internationally famous museums, for example Identité Italienne at the Pompidou Centre, Paris (1981), Wide White Space at the Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels (1994), The Italian Metamorphosis at the Guggenheim Museum, New York (1994(95), Zero Italien at the Galerie der Stadt, Esslingen (1995(96). Recently he has had one-man exhibitions at such Italian museums as Palazzo Fabroni, Pistoia (1996) and the Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea, Trento (1999).

On the occasion of this exhibition, Fondazione Prada is publishing a book containing both the artists writings and essays by Italian and foreign critics analysing Castellanis work as seen in relationship to the historical and cultural context of the second half of the 20th century.

*E. Castellani, Continuità e nuovo, in Azimuth, n.2, Milan, 1960.
** E. Castellani, Lo spazio dellimmagine, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Trinci, Foligno, 1967.
*** L.Vincenti, interview with Enrico Castellani, Linafferrabile Enrico, Amica, n.15. Milan, 1983.

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