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Capturing the moment at Fondazione Burri

Palazzo-Albizzini-sala-IX-Città-di-Castello – Courtesy of Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello – by SIAE 2021

Contemporary Art in Città di Castello, Umbria

Crackled canvases, warped metal, burnt pvc, not exactly what you think of when traveling the verdant region of Umbria, but put a pin on it. Head north west to Città di Castello. Destination:  Fondazione Burri, one of the most important destinations in the history of modern art. That’s right, pack your bags, charge your phone, you’re on an artISSIMO adventure. 

Introducing artist Alberto Burri

Città di Castello is charming – a picture perfect walled town with winding side streets, Etrsucan ruins and ancestral home of Alberto Burri, Umbria’s poster boy of modern art. A prolific visual artist, painter and sculptor known for mind-blowing materials, techniques and style. Burri’s backstory is a bit off beat. Born in the small town in 1915, Burri studied medicine and worked as a medic during World War II. In 1943, Burri was captured in Tunisia and taken to Texas as a prisoner-of-war by the Allied forces, where he began his experiments in painting. That very same year, Burri’s brother perished in the war, and the solace he found in painting became devotion and then full time calling. His work would be like no other.

“The Italian painter Alberto Burri often “paints” pictures that have little or no paint in them. Expert in the ways of underbrush, particularly its cast skins and tissues, he has created many pictures in a medium of old sacks, bits of rag and string, which he redeems with a sort of Franciscan piety. Although the incorporation of actual materials in a picture is a familiar practice, the nature of Burri’s materials still occasions shock or protest.” ~   Milton Gendel, Artnews, 1954

Polymaterialism, matterism, experimentation with unexpected, avant-garde and unorthodox materials such as concrete, tar, sand, aluminium dust along and polyvinyl chloride are the palette to his sculptural canvases that seemingly freeze moments of transformation. And the response to Burri’s work is emotional and almost as visceral as the works themselves. His paintings and sculptures dominate collections and museums the world over. In his lifetime, Burri was never daunted by material nor space, and his capolavoro Il Cretto is one of (if not the) largest land art paintings ever- covering an  85,000 square meters in Gibellina, Sicily and honours the victims of 1968 earthquake which demolished the town.

Cretto di Burri – Gibellina, Sicily

The collection at Fondazione Burri

Life imitates art. In 1978 Burri established the Collezione Burri, donating 32 works of art and freezing a moment of his own transformation. Housed in Palazzo Albizzini, a 15th century Renaissance palace gifted to the Burri Foundation for use for 99 years, the collection now includes 200 pieces located in two complexes. 

Palazzo Albizzini plays a dramatic and contrasting background to Burri’s experimental works of art. Sprawling over more than 1600 square meters across three levels, the palazzo itself is an almost neverending story. Room after room, visitors encounter Burri’s paintings and sculptures of every kind of size, full immersion in Burri’s techniques, materials and experiments. There are paintings simply hung on walls and paintings that are the walls. The collection is that incredible.

And there’s more. Across town is Ex-Seccatoi di Tabacco, a former tobacco drying facility on the edge of town acquired by the Fondazione in 1989 where 128 monumental works and sculptures reside. Originally built in the 1950s, the Ex-Seccatoi was a warehouse in the 1960s (drying and preserving the books and registries of the Florence library and courthouse following the flood of 1966), and then Burri’s own studio. Today, the mega industrial complex focuses primarily on Burri’s works in celotext, a fiberboard the artist discovered when doing home repairs. Ominous, gargantuan and chilling beautiful mega-sculptures lounge across the outdoor greenery.

Pastry imitating Art

There is a lifetime of Burri to explore, and once you deep dive into Fondazione Burri, you will not get enough. Ask Walter Musco of Pasticceria Bompiani. The former gallerist and now Rome’s famed pastry chef has always been in love with modern and contemporary art, but Burri’s emotional work, in particular Il Cretto, inspired Musco to create a limited edition cake Gran Cretto – omaggio ad A.Burri made of the flavours of Sicily –  mulberry mousse, mulberry jelly and almond (in cream, flakes and shortbread), essentially capturing a Burri moment and inviting the viewer to break it into it.

~By Erica Firpo

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