What fascinates me about trees is their structure: the tree is a being that memorializes the feats of its existence in its very form. Similarly, our bodies could be considered the sum of the performance of our existence. The tree can be considered a metaphor for the work of a sculptor who fixes his actions in the material.
Gagosian London is pleased to present “Circling,” an exhibition of Giuseppe Penone’s monumental works Scrigno (Casket) (2007) and Sigillo (Seal) (2008).
In sculptures, drawings, photographs, and installations, Giuseppe Penone heightens the subtle levels of interplay between man, art, and nature. His work represents a poetic expansion of Arte Povera’s radical break with conventional media, and emphasizes the involuntary processes of respiration, growth, and aging that are shared by man and tree. During the late 1960s, in the forests near Garessio, Italy, he stunted the growth of trees with nails, metal wire, and an iron cast of his hand that gripped a living trunk, thus insinuating himself into the cycles of the natural landscape. In the early 1970s, he continued to harness the innate attributes of his body by drawing the patterns of his skin and casting his face in plaster. In To Reverse One’s Eyes (1970), he was photographed wearing mirrored contact lenses, positing vision as the precise point of separation between self and environment.
In each of the large-scale works that comprise the exhibition, an artistic gesture is crafted upon a natural foundation. Sigillo (Seal) (2008)—which was included in Penone's major installation at Château de Versailles in 2013—is a horizontal veined marble slab almost twenty meters in length. Across its mid-point, a solid cylinder of the same marble evokes the ancient Babylonian seals used to make impressions in clay, linking a man-made tool to the endless swirling pattern that was in fact produced by geological events over millions of years. Scrigno (Casket) (2007) is a patchwork mural of overlapping sections of weathered brown leather. Moving around a living tree, Penone hammered the leather against it to impress the bark’s natural pattern and texture onto every square inch. Across the center of this vast work, which measures approximately fifteen meters in width, lies a small tree cast in bronze, split open to reveal its rich resin interior. Engaging with and subtly intervening in the natural world so as to reimagine it, Penone finds ever new ways to harmonize elemental occurrences with his own artifice.
Giuseppe Penone was born in 1947 in Garessio, Italy. He lives and works in Paris and Turin. Public collections include Tate Gallery, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Musée d´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; MAXXI, Rome; Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Recent solo exhibitions include Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2004); Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota, Japan (2008); Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom (2009); Musée des Arts Contemporains, Grand-Hornu, Belgium (2011); Documenta 13, Kassel (2012); "The Bloomberg Commission: Giuseppe Penone," Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2012); “Penone Versailles,” Château de Versailles, France (2013); Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2013); and Madison Square Park, New York (2013–14). Penone co-represented Italy in the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007).
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