Critics’ Picks

Alberto Burri, Bianco Cretto C 1, 1973, acrylic and glue on fiberboard, 59 1/2 x 49 1/4". Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Collezione Burri, Città di Castello, Italy © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome.

Los Angeles

Alberto Burri

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Bergamot Station G1 2525 Michigan Avenue
September 11–December 18

“Combustione: Alberto Burri and America” persuasively affords Burri a significant place in the narrative of twentieth-century art. Curated by Lisa Melandri with Michael Duncan, the exhibition includes thirty-six paintings and prints that the Italian artist and longtime Los Angeles resident made between 1951 and 1990, and offers a rewarding view of his consistently elegant aesthetic and his fierce commitment to innovation. Early in his career, he made compositions of rags and burlap reminiscent of collages by Picasso and Schwitters, but from there, Burri mined a new vein, influenced by art informel and fueled by experiments with a wide array of materials.

During the 1960s, Burri utilized fire (the combustione of the exhibition’s title) as both material and process, essentially painting with flames on plastic, cardboard, and paper. The resulting deep black creases, tears, and organic shapes become the focal point of each work. In the 1970s, Burri combined glue with earth and acrylic to make the powerful and apocalyptic “Cretti” (Cracks), geologic texture maps in rich black or warm white. A series of prints the artist made in 1990 in collaboration with Mixografía, a Los Angeles–based printmaking workshop, draw out the surprisingly varied grain of another of Burri’s often used materials, Celotex (ceiling tile), to create elegant compositions of primal forms in a symphony of blacks.

Burri’s first use of discarded materials was one of the most radical of his time; it predated the Arte Povera and Fluxus movements and similarly paved the way for the widespread use of industrial and natural materials among contemporary artists today. Behind his influential body of work lies a biography worthy of a Hollywood biopic: As an army medic during World War II, Burri was captured by American troops in Tunisia in 1943 and held as a prisoner of war in Texas, where he began to paint. Upon his release in 1946, he returned to Italy, renounced his profession as a doctor, and became an artist—one whose legacy, as the exhibition attests, merits renewed attention.