Door 1: Alberto Burri

Post-war Italy proved to be a fertile ground for various art movements. There was Neo-Dada, Nouveau Réalisme, Postminimalism or Arte Povera. A contemporary or even precursor of those movements, but never really part of them was the Italian artist Alberto Burri.

He was born in 1915 in Città di Castello, Umbria to a wine merchant and an elementary school teacher. As a teenager he did not show much interest in school and preferred soccer, but was exposed to great Renaissance art in Tuscany. After his medical degree at the University of Perugia he was sent to the Italo-Ethiopian war in 1940.

Captured by the British army in May 1943 he was sent to an imprisonment camp for Italian soldiers in HerefordTexas. There Alberto Burri started to draw with no formal training, being a complete autodidact. His first works were figuratively, but as the materials provided by the YMCA got scarce, he also used empty burlap sacks. Soon he realized that he does not want to pursue a medical career.

After his return to Italy in 1946, despite his parents' disapproval he set up a studio in Rome and got in touch with the small but international artist scene in the city. Being exposed to forefront of contemporary art, he soon started to express himself abstractly. Visiting Joan Mirós studio and seeing Jean Dubuffets work in Paris at that time, helped his creativity with materials. His first solo exhibition took place in 1948 in small bookshop/gallery La Margherita in Rome.

In 1955 he married American dancer Minsa Craig, who had visited Rome with Martha Graham's dance company. This marriage lead to various collaborations where he made the set and the costumes for her group. Around that time an interest in Italian contemporary art arosed in the U.S.A. and numerous exhibitions took place there, so the couple shared time between Italy and Los Angeles. This started a dialogue with Minimalism and resulted in Burri's cretti (cracks) series, which dominated his later work.

In his career had numerous exhibitions and showed among others at the Venice Biennale, the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil, and in Documenta II and III in Kassel. Alberto Burri died in 1995 in Nice, where he had moved for health reasons.

Stylistically he was at forefront of the above mentioned art movements as he blurred the lines between relief sculpture and painting and redefined the concept and understanding of the monochrome. Also remarkable is his use of at that time untypical materials, which defined different cycles of his oeuvre and contrary to his contemporaries let the viewer focus on the tactile. Important to mention are here jute bags for the sachi series, metal for the feri or the cellotex plates for his cretti series.

 With his techniques and materials Burri never intended to destroy or to provoke, but rather expressed the trauma and shock of recent history and his personal experiences and was able to show through his work the damage, repair and also vulnerability.