Enrico Castellani

Galleria Lia Rumma / Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea

For Italy, and for Europe generally, sixty-nine-year-old Enrico Castellani’s life, perhaps even more than his art, provides an exceptional example of coherence. Inspired by Lucio Fontana, he was a fellow-traveler of Piero Manzoni, with whom he established the Azimuth gallery and magazine in Milan in 1959. Castellani has spent forty years working on a single problem: the surface in relation to light. His protruding canvases feature small nails mounted on a complex frame on which he constructs monochrome “surfaces,” where light (in the form of its opposite, shadow) takes hold, moves, changes according to environmental conditions—in short, “lives,” and in so doing also brings alive the surface, that is, its reflective counterpart.

The two recent shows, at Galleria Lia Rumma in Milan and the Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea in Trento, summarized the artist’s entire career. The Milan exhibit featured very new work: a series of six blue paintings, and a series of six white ones, all evincing Castellani’s signature modulated surfaces. The show in Trento was a retrospective of over a hundred well-chosen works, offering a comprehensive view of Castellani’s oeuvre, particularly his anomalous moments. Among the works in the Trento show, Asse d’equilibrio (Axis of equilibrium), 1973, stood out. Five precision scales—placed at increasing intervals along a plank of wood resting on two stool-like pedestals—hold up a metal tube so that it is perfectly horizontal, but the weight indicated on each measuring device is proportionately different. Equality and diversity, perfect balance as a result of different forces, measure and repetition—all are underlying themes in his work generally, but in this piece they appeared in a form that was more conceptual yet more physically obvious. Anomaly may be discerned only in the presence of “normality,” and this has become not only his obsession, but also that of his viewers, who seek in his work a significant variation, as in a Bach score.

Castellani’s gesture is repeated, but it is never repetitive, for he is conscious of its value as a “human” gesture, and of how that gesture is part of his own lie plan. One could paradoxically state that the artist takes abjectness to another level, that of light and surface, which themselves become present and tangible as “objects.” Perhaps this is why Castellani is now finding acceptance in Europe, and “recognition” by recent generations. The theme of his work has changed: In addition to surface, there is life, as Castellani himself wrote in Azimuth forty years ago.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore