Alberto Burri (Italian, 1915-1995) Combustione Plastica L.A. 1967

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Lot 7AR
Alberto Burri
(Italian, 1915-1995)
Combustione Plastica L.A.

Sold for £ 43,750 (US$ 60,374) inc. premium
Alberto Burri (Italian, 1915-1995)
Combustione Plastica L.A.

signed and dated 67 on the reverse
plastic, acrylic, vinavil and combustion on cellotex

9 by 20 cm.
3 9/16 by 7 7/8 in.


  • This work is registered in the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Città di Castello, under no. 672.

    Private Collection, Europe
    Sale: Christie's, London, Post-War & Contemporary Day Sale, 25 June 2004, Lot 159
    Galleria Tega, Milan
    Private Collection, Genoa
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Burri: contributi al catalogo sistematico, Città di Castello 1990, p. 133, no. 542, illustrated in colour (incorrect orientation)

    Of all artistic media, Painting is the most traditional and historically entrenched. For centuries, artists reproduced their realities or subjective responses to their existence by applying pigment onto a surface. Whilst egg tempera eventually became acrylic, and board evolved to become canvas, this paradigm remained unchanged for centuries until its authority was finally challenged by a group of Avant-Garde artists working in Italy just after World War II.

    Along with Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri was at the forefront of this radical movement, and central to his practice was to challenge convention and tradition. Whilst Fontana symbolically punched holes or cut through the surface, Burri decided to destroy the bourgeois notion of the painter's surface entirely. He used anti-conventional and new-age industrial materials to form the basis of his works; he replaced canvas with sacking, used plastic instead of paint, and a blowtorch for a brush.

    The present work is a classic example of Burri's eschewal of tradition, and adoption of a new materiality. Executed in 1967, at the height of the global post-war boom, Combustione Plastica L.A. makes use of new materials such as plastic, and marks a departure from the artist's early works from the late 40s and 50s which utilised tar, sacking and wood. The world experienced an explosion of material and plastic production in the post-war period, and for the first time the general public came in contact on a day-to-day basis with plastics – which were considered futuristic, luxurious, and evidence of a new age full of possibility.

    Here, Burri decided to use "Cellotex" as his base - an industrial thermal insulation board. Layered on top is a plastic sheet which is attached using "Vinavil", an industrial adhesive. In a purely iconoclastic act, Burri used a blowtorch to burn the plastic horizontally across the surface. Burning plastic is different to burning anything else: it warps, bubbles, blackens, and burns at the same time, as its chemical properties are altered by the combustion. Burri relished that he could use the elemental force of fire to reveal new forms and structures in his art with a technique that was dictated by chaos and chance, redolent of Dada strategies.

    Four years earlier, Yves Klein had pioneered the use of fire for creative purposes in his experimental Fire Paintings at the Centre d'Essais du Gaz de France. There, Klein used a large flamethrower to 'burn' images into sheets of cardboard. He would mask out areas using fire retardant paint which would protect the surface from being singed by the extreme heat of the flamethrower, much akin to Heliographic process in photography. The result was a change in the tonality of the surface of the cardboard, as Klein literally 'painted' with fire. However, for Burri the use of fire was conceptually very different to Klein's aims: Klein used fire to colour the surface, Burri used fire to transform it. It places Burri almost as a chemical engineer, transforming the materials he utilised on a molecular level to drag art into a totally new realm of abstraction. In terms of art history this shift cannot be underestimated: Burri's art demonstrates the triumph of matter over painting, as the physicality of his materials acquire life of their own, assuming total precedence over traditional criteria.

    Burri initially trained in medicine, and was a doctor with the Italian armed forces during World War II, before he was taken captive by the U.S. army and put in prisoner-of-war facility in Texas, where he started painting and drawing. It is often said his artworks recall his medical experiences, and the present work is redolent of a bandage used to smother a burn. It stands then as an allegory not only for the trauma and pain Burri had witnessed during the war, but also as one for the trauma and pain he had caused to Painting itself.

    Despite being held captive in America, Burri must have felt a strong yearning to return, and in 1963 he purchased a home in the Hollywood Hills. There he would spend each winter until 1989, and artworks executed during this period were given either the prefix or suffix: L.A. The present work is as such part of this special and select body of works executed in the land where Burri began his journey to become one of the most venerated artists of the 20th Century, in the most atypical of circumstances. Perhaps fittingly, this October the Guggenheim, New York, will offer the most comprehensive retrospective of Burri's works ever on American soil, placing him as a central and singular protagonist of Post-War Art.
Alberto Burri (Italian, 1915-1995) Combustione Plastica L.A. 1967
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