Second year IDSVA PhD candidates had the pleasure of viewing Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting—a major retrospective exhibition held at the internationally renowned Guggenheim Museum. Showcasing more than 35 years of Burri’s assault on the picture-plane, these experiments in thermoplasticity animate the liveliness of fire and the human spirit.
A protagonist of post–World War II art, Alberto Burri (1915-1995) is a pioneering figure of the mechanical age, exploring organic and hazardous aesthetics, which according to the artist “left nothing to chance”. On the verge of disintegration, charred plastic forms replace burlap and create an uneasy fusion of the mass-produced and elementally disposable. The Combustioni plastiche (plastic combustions) arise as a protest through art of materialistic consciousness, or the necessity of being clearly demonstrable in a world far removed from the original.
An architectural icon of 20th century modernism, the Guggenheim corkscrews from top to bottom, which is really one single plane only delineated into ‘floors’ by the ordering of an elevator. One begins to see Burri’s objects similarly escape the reasoning logic of space. Using this extension, Burri burned the boundaries between sculpture and painting. Can we learn through the unmaking of painting and find clues that help thinking to become more plastic? In other words, can we stay on the elevator?
In 1946 Spatialist Lucio Fontana famously challenged modern art to confront subjectivity in the Manifesto Blanco by suggesting that we must change the essence of its form and without such a transformation “painted canvas and standing plaster figures no longer have any reason to exist”. Burri’s answer to Fontana is on glorious display in Plastica (Plastic) 1964, and Grande bianco plastica (Large white plastic) 1964, and is so well articulated that even his smaller ‘sketches’ interrogate the role of art and technology with an aggressive analogical attitude. Artist philosophers like Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana create a new front to be won in the invasive space and unnatural texture of postmodernism by embracing the unorthodox resins and residues of the era of pliability.