Bloomberg Commission 2012 winner Giuseppe Penone (his work ‘Spazio di Luce’ shown above at The Whitechapel Gallery) is back in London for a solo exhibition at the Gagosian on Britannia Street, with large-scale sculptures/installations and several smaller yet equally impactful drawings. On until 31 May 2014.
‘An idea of the infinite’
For Italian artist Giuseppe Penone, the humble tree “… is a being that memorializes the feats of its existence in its very form.” By echoing the rings that radiate out from the centre of every tree, Penone’s work emulates the kind of circularity which he asserts “…exists in all plant life…the repetition of a form [that] creates a kind of rituality, an idea of the infinite.” In ‘Circling’ at the Gagosian, Penone continues the tradition of Arte Provera of the 60s with his work using unconventional materials, which according to the exhibition notes, “heightens the subtle levels of interplay between man, art, and nature [and] emphasizes the involuntary processes of respiration, growth, and ageing that are shared by man and tree.”
Somewhat less tree-like is the 4-by-20-metre installation, ‘Sigillo [Seal]’, seen first in 2012 at Chateau de Versailles. The hugely phallic stone column appears to have rolled across the marble tiles beneath it, leaving a distinctly veiny impression.
In three nearly identical works that combine carved marble and acacia thorns, ‘Pelle di marmo e spine d’acacia – Nadia’ (and there’s one for ‘Livia’ and ‘Marta’ too), the sculptor depicts what one might imagine to be a highly-magnified view of stone flesh and hair. Presumably, each is a portrait of a woman in Penone’s life (what with all the thorns, I’m dying to know who Marta, Livia and Nadia are, and whether or not the relationship was amicable. Somehow, I’ve got an image of women who are outwardly beautiful but inwardly prickly).
‘Scrigno [Casket]’ (2007), dominates another room with chocolatey-brown leather that suggests the outer skin of trunks and bronze is used to represent a sapling split open to reveal the tree’s life-blood pooled inside its heart of pure gold.
Focused on the idea of trees, one might almost miss the artist’s fingerprint at the centre of Penone’s ‘Propagazione’ drawings, a mark which firmly denotes the unmistakeable human presence in this artist’s work. “The tree”, Penone says, “can be considered a metaphor for the work of a sculptor who fixes his actions in the material.” With the singular gesture of pressing inked finger to paper, it seems the artist has also stamped a certain sovereignty over the tree he emulates as he binds himself within this noble prince of earth.
This one drawing may also be a blinding glimpse into one’s one mortality superimposed onto a split-second vision of the impact of humankind on nature. As I left the gallery, this is the piece that silently made my heart hurt.
More links and information
- Learn more about ‘Circling’ and Giuseppe Penone’s work on the Gagosian website
- Watch a video on Gagosian’s website in which Giuseppe Penone talks about his work – by Out of Sync / Per Henriksen + Jesper Bundgaard
- View/download press release for Giuseppe Penone’s ‘Circling’ at Gagosian [PDF]
- View/download Giuseppe Penone ‘Circling’ exhibition guide [PDF]
Reviews of Giuseppe Penone: ‘Circling’ at Gagosian, London
- “In this collection of sculptures and drawings, Penone is exploring how works of art are formed in the human mind” by Lowenna Waters for Apollo Magazine (online) – 15 April 2014
- Amy Weville for Artists Insight (online) on Giuseppe Penone at Gagosian Britannia Street – “These works are successful in encouraging the viewer to consider material, natural forms and the stages of existence that things go through. Within Central London, especially in this area, the space for the contemplation of nature is hard to come by.” – 18 April 2014
Exhibition details: ‘Circling’ by Giuseppe Penone is at Gagosian, 6-24 Britannia Street, London, WC1X 9JD from 11 April to 31 May 2014. Free admission. Step-free access.