PRINT January 2016


ART WOULD NEVER BE QUITE THE SAME: ripped open, on fire. ALBERTO BURRI demystified painting through radically simple means, but his legacy remains complex and little understood. Here, scholar ANTHONY WHITE finds renewed force in the postwar artist’s combustible innovations—on view in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s major retrospective in New York until January 7—tracing a surprising afterlife for the work in GIOVANNI ANSELMO’s investigations of matter, nature, and ecological crises.

Alberto Burri, Rosso plastica (Red Plastic), 1963, PVC plastic, acrylic, combustion, and Vinavil on black fabric, 31 1/2 × 39 3/8". © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome.

EVEN AS THEY UNRAVELED abstract painting’s identity, Alberto Burri’s torn and soiled burlap sacks were largely ignored or greeted with disdain when they were first exhibited in Italy in the 1950s. Their reception on this side of the Atlantic was a little better, but in the ensuing decades the artist’s work fell out of favor, was deaccessioned by institutions, and came to be viewed as a dated sidetrack to the broader historical narrative of modern art. We are now in a critical moment when we might revisit those very culs-de-sac of modernism—and chart a more nuanced turning point for painting. By tracing Burri’s long career, which stretched over five decades and a broad range of media and scales, the Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition begins a process of coming to a fuller understanding of the artist’s oeuvre. It is now possible to correct some of the misapprehensions that plagued

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