From Alberto Burri to Anselm Kiefer, an exhibition on earth and matter in Switzerland

Entitled "Terre" the new exhibition at the Olgiati Collection in Lugano: from Burri to Kiefer, Prampolini to Leoncillo, Dubuffet to Mattiacci, an exhibition on earth and matter in Switzerland.

Museums in Switzerland are now permanently reopened, and the Giancarlo and Danna Olgiati Collection in Lugano reopens its exhibition season by presenting to the public, from March 27 to June 6, 2021, a thematic exhibition entitled Terre. The exhibition features a selection of twenty-two works of painting and sculpture ranging from the 1920s to the present, gathered around the title “Terre” and united by a “material” dimension. The fourteen artists in the exhibition, from different eras and of various geographical origins, investigate the expressive qualities of matter with a variety of outcomes: from painting dominated by the colors of the earth by Zoran Muši?, to informal research in the Italian and European spheres, to the “cosmic” materials of Enrico Prampolini, Eliseo Mattiacci and Anselm Kiefer. The exhibition presents an important nucleus of works, many of which have never been exhibited before, offering a never-before-seen look at the Giancarlo and Danna Olgiati Collection as a whole, in terms of artistic choices and overview.

The exhibition project starts with a significant group of five paintings by the Slovenian-born painter and graphic artist Zoran Muši? (Gorizia, 1909 - Venice, 2005): Sienese Landscape (1953), Enclos primitif (E3) (1960), Motif végétal (1972), Terre d’istria (1957) and Terre dalmate (1959). These are works that testify to the creative season following the artist’s move to Paris in 1953, when his painterly production approached the language of French Informal. Through a painting of organic motifs with arid tones that often trespasses beyond the figurative, Muši?tells an intimate and personal universe, in which the memory of the lands of the artist’s childhood and experience resurfaces.

In the same room the public finds important works by three masters of the Italian twentieth century, Alberto Burri (Città di Castello, 1915 - Nice, 1995), Leoncillo (Leoncillo Leonardi; Spoleto, 1915 - Rome, 1968) and Emilio Vedova (Venice, 1919 - 2006). Protagonists of the Informal season, they introduce us to a poetics based on the intrinsic value of matter reduced to its primordial state. Questioning the possibility of representing a world devastated as a result of the destruction wrought by the world wars, these authors give life to a research that frees itself from the ideal and rational control of the image in favor of the expressiveness of the elements (jute sacks, iron, wood or plastic) and the earth in its friable and lumpy substance. By Burri, the Collection exhibits a Bianco Nero Cretto from 1972, whose fragmented surface that recalls the cracks of clayey soils restores the “suffering” of the material exposed to the drying process; a composition that prefigures all the drama of the Grande Cretto (1984-89) made by the artist in Gibellina, on the rubble of the city razed to the ground by the earthquake that struck the Belice Valley in Sicily in 1968. The sculpture Untitled (1960) reveals the original creative process with which Leoncillo uses stoneware (a hard-paste ceramic material), allowing the author’s profound identification with the material itself to shine through (“creta carne mia,” the artist claimed), while in the sculpture Per uno spazio - 29 (1987-88) by Emilio Vedova it is the gestural charge of painting to impose itself, going on to incorporate another material (wood) to itself, to the point of connoting it with a plastic-spatial quality.

The encounter with informal art continues in the next section with the pictorial works of two of its major interpreters in the European sphere: Marrò (1958) by Antoni Tàpies (Barcelona, 1923 - 2012) and Masque de terre (1960) by Jean Dubuffet (Le Havre, 1901 - Paris, 1985). Both explore the use of poor materials, such as debris or earth, mixed with oil paint, in the complete absence of figuration that leaves no room for anything but the suggestive power of raw material. If Dubuffet emphasizes the primordial and instinctive aspect of interaction with matter, Tàpies creates a work that appears as a real “wall” of earth furrowed by marks and incisions, a solid presence that invites us to go beyond the matter itself.

The exhibition continues, without chronological consequentiality, with a tribute to Italian sculptor Arturo Martini (Treviso, 1889 - Milan, 1947). The small-format refractory earth sculpture Violoncellista (c. 1931) is placed in the highest phase of his creation, which he himself called the “singing period,” when he received first prize for sculpture at the First Quadriennale in Rome (1931) and was invited with a solo room to the Venice Biennale (1932). On the wall and in dialogue with Martini’s sculpture is the painted plaster work Deux oiseaux (1926) by Max Ernst (Brühl, Germany, 1891 - Paris, 1976), executed two years after the founding of the Surrealist movement in Paris. With singular technical inventiveness, Ernst devises a refined composition where vague bird forms can be discerned emerging from heterogeneous textural and chromatic textures. Although made nearly a century later, the sculpture Belle du vent (2003) by Rebecca Horn (Michelstadt, 1944), consisting of a pair of volcanic stone elements driven by a motor, suggests a similarly dreamlike and surreal atmosphere. Through a symbolic language, the German artist combines mechanical devices and organic materials to investigate themes such as nature in its cyclical progression, the passage of time, and human existence. Among contemporary artists, moreover, German Markus Lüpertz (Reichenberg, 1941) and Colombian Gabriel Sierra (San Juan Nepomuceno, 1975), featured in the exhibition with the painting Ulysses II (2011) and the wall work Untitled (2014)m respectively, reveal two distinct ways of relating to the concept of matter: the former by evoking it within a purely pictorial dimension, while the latter by assembling three-dimensional objects with strong architectural connotations that subvert contingent space-time coordinates.

The path closes with a chapter devoted to “cosmic” materials, through the work of Enrico Prampolini, Eliseo Mattiacci and Anselm Kiefer. By Enrico Prampolini (Modena, 1894 - Rome, 1956), an eclectic and original exponent of Italian futurism, four works are presented: the two famous polymateric Automatismo polimaterico C (1940) and Automatismo polimaterico F (1941) express a lyrical and spiritual vision of reality, defined by the artist himself as “cosmic idealism.” Through the polymateric elaboration, Prampolini intends to project himself “beyond the boundaries of earthly reality” to the point of investigating the mysteries of the cosmos. If in these works the production processes and biological rhythms of nature are evoked, the conception of matter as an unprecedented extra-pictorial and anti-illusory reality prevails rather in the following decade, as can be seen in the two polymateric works Bioplastic Apparitions (1954) and Composizione S6: sulfur and cobalt (1955). The theme of man’s relationship with the cosmos distinguishes the entire creative career of Marche artist Eliseo Mattiacci (Cagli, 1940 - Fossombrone, 2019). The author himself refers to “the sky, the Cosmos, the immensity of the infinite” as his sources of inspiration. Both works exhibited here, Meteoritic Space (1984) and Exploring (2003), well represent the enigmatic rigor with which Mattiacci formulates his visual universe through the original use of metals, “living” materials capable of activating energy exchanges and new spatial relationships. Finally, of cosmic-astronomical inspiration is the large pictorial work Eridanus (2004) by Anselm Kiefer (Donaueschingen, 1945): here the celestial sphere furrowed by the geometry of the constellation from which a lead submarine juts out, highlights the artist’s reflection on the relationship with the recent history of the German nation.

The new exhibition at the Giancarlo and Danna Olgiati Collection intends to offer an overview of art between the 20th and 21st centuries that is able to highlight the inalienable need of man to confront the earth, in its physical and metaphysical meaning: the place of origin, development and end of every human being. For all information about the exhibition you can visit the Olgiati Collection website.

Pictured: Alberto Burri, Bianco Nero Cretto (1972; acrovinyl on cellotex, 76.5 x 101.5 cm)

From Alberto Burri to Anselm Kiefer, an exhibition on earth and matter in Switzerland
From Alberto Burri to Anselm Kiefer, an exhibition on earth and matter in Switzerland

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