Petra Noordkamp just finished a new short film, commissioned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, about ‘Il Grande Cretto di Gibellina’, an artwork of the Italian artist Alberto Burri. The film will be shown in the Guggenheim from Ocotber 9 (2015) until January 6 (2016) during the retrospective of Burri’s work: ‘The Trauma of Painting’.
Petra Noordkamp (1967, Losser, the Netherlands) is moving fluidly between photography and film. She explores the influence of experiences, memories, movies and dreams on the perception of architecture and the urban environment. Her work is characterised by a great love of simplicity, emptiness, form and aesthetics, radiating a feeling of loneliness, alienation and melancholy.
For this Alberto Burri exhibition, 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.
Alberto 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.
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.