On his release from the Texas internment camp where he was held as a prisoner of war from 1944 to 1946 (having served with the Italian army in North Africa), Alberto Burri embarked on a practice of post-painterly abstraction rooted in a commitment to scabrous materiality. From 1949 onward he employed wood, plastic, and burlap—often burning or suturing them—as well as mud and dirt to generate surfaces that mark an intersection of formalism, or rather formlessness, and a confrontation with history. Seeming on the one hand closed to interpretation by the utter opacity of filthy matter, these works on the other hand suggest a metaphorics of the wound (Burri was a surgeon in the army). They evoke the surfaces of the body under assault, and the dialectics of hope and healing. Burri’s project is symptomatic of the Italian art of his generation in its patent refusal to signify and its simultaneous
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