Enrico Castellani

Palazzo Fabroni

Enrico Castellani’s recent show, a survey of works dating from 1958 to the ’90s, demonstrated that he has produced one of the most significant bodies of work in Italy since the war. It was with a small-scale canvas Superficie nera (Black surface, 1959) that Castellani found the path he has followed up to the present: using a precise system, he drives nails into the underlying frames of his canvases at varying depths. With this method he turns monochrome canvases into pulsating membranes or labyrinths made dynamic and flexible by the varying angles of light striking the surface. This process is the conceptual matrix of all Castellani’s work.

In the early ’60s, Castellani placed himself in direct opposition to the aims of art informel and post-Surrealism. He developed a Minimalistic process informed by the fundamental lessons of Alberto Burri and, of course, Lucio Fontana. For Castellani, modifying a surface means leaving it largely intact, while extending the elasticity of its membrane so much that he transforms or even negates it. Significantly, Castellani was one of the first artists to work with shaped canvases during the ’60s, and the space suggested by the arrangement of nails is itself elastic and mobile—sometimes curved or turned inside out along the edges, divided in halves that mirror each other, or subdivided into triptychs or rhomboids placed diagonally alongside one another. The surface is crossed by two types of dynamic tensions, one resulting from the projections and depressions caused by the nails, as well as shadows that create fleeting and illusive perspectival effects; the other, which is plastic and three-dimensional, is tied to the structure of the stretcher frame—this tension is also found in actual installations, as in Ambiente bianco (White environment, 1970).

In Castellani’s work space becomes synonymous with time; the asceticism of his working process and the forms he creates are closely linked to the vital, temporal flow between artist and the spectator. This temporal dimension was also investigatedin the installation pieces that appeared in this show. Muro del tempo (Wall of time, 1968), Spartito (Split up, 1969), Obelisco (Obelisk, 1970), and Asse d’equilibrio (Axis of equilibrium, 1973) all played in various ways with the idea of the measurement of time, suggesting a vital current in which one could lose or find oneself again. Theodor Adorno’s description of Alban Berg’s music as the art of “minimum passage” is a definition that perfectly encompasses Castellani’s work, where transformation and discontinuity are interwoven through imperceptible variations within the repeated gestures that literally construct the surface. And it is precisely for this reason that Castellani’s work is one of the best examples of painting as the art of silence.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.