Alberto Burri

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Alberto Burri
Alberto Burri Bianco Plastica 1966.jpg
Bianco Plastica, 1966, plastic, acrylic, combustion on Celotex, 100x75cm, Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina
Born (1915-03-12)12 March 1915
Città di Castello, Italy[1]
Died 15 February 1995(1995-02-15) (aged 79)[1]
Nice, France[1]
Nationality Italian
Known for Painting, Sculpture
Awards Italian Order of Merit in 1994

Alberto Burri (born 12 March 1915 in Città di Castello, Italy, died 13 February 1995 in Nice, France) was an Italian painter and sculptor.

Early life and career[edit]

Alberto Burri was born in Città di Castello, in Umbria in 1915. He earned a medical degree from the University of Perugia specializing in tropical medicine.[2] On 12 October 1940, two days after Italy entered World War II, Burri was called up as a medic and sent to Libya in March 1943. On 8 May 1943 after the Axis forces were defeated at El Alamein, his unit was captured in Tunisia,[3] he was interned in Camp Howze prisoner-of-war camp in Gainesville, Texas, where he began to paint.[4]


Burri's first paintings were views of the desert he could see from the prison camp and still life's with paints and canvases supplied by the YMCA.[5] He primarily painted "nostalgic Umbrian landscapes and figures", as Milton Gendel described in an ArtNews issue published in 1954.[2] He collected old burlap sacks and brought them with him upon his return to Italy and continued to use them in place of canvas. He continued to use burlap, having a supply from the local miller.

After his release in 1946, Burri moved to Rome to pursue a full-time career as painter, despite the disapproval of most his friends and family. He joined his cousin, a musician and sole supporter in his decision, who helped to connect him with the Roman art circles.[2] However he was a very private and solitary artist, working incessantly. His incorporation of unusual materials like plastic cements, resin, zinc oxide, pumice and kaolin, tar and PVC adhesives in his paintings reflected his affinity for science. Although he distanced himself from Arte Informale, the prominent artistic movement in Italy at the time, much of his work was based on Informale aesthetic and ideas, and today he is generally recognized as an Arte Informale artist.[2]

In the mid-1950s, Burri introduced charred wood into his burlap works, followed by scrap iron sheets fixed onto the wood, as well as colored and transparent sheets of plastic. In the 1970s he began his "cracked" paintings, or cretti.[6] He created a series of works in the industrial insulating material, Celotex, from 1979 through the 1990s.[7]

In the 1980s, Burri created a form of land art project on the town of Gibellina in Sicily. The town was abandoned following the 1968 Belice earthquake, with the inhabitants being rehoused in a newly built town 18 km away. Burri covered an area of over 120,000 square metres (1,300,000 sq ft), most of the old town, and an area roughly 300 metres by 400 metres with white concrete.[8] He called this the Grande Cretto.


In 1953–54, Burri garnered attention in the United States when his work was included in the group exhibition Younger European Painters: A Selection at the Guggenheim Museum.[9] His first U.S. retrospective was presented by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 1963.[10] A traveling Burri retrospective made a stop at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1978.


In 1960, Burri was awarded Third Prize at the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh. In 1959 he won the Premio dell’Ariete in Milan and the UNESCO Prize at the São Paulo Biennial. There was a solo show of Burri’s art in 1960 at the Venice Biennale, where he was awarded the Critics’ Prize.[11]

Burri was awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1994.

Burri's birthplace of Città di Castello has memorialized him with a large permanent museum of his works. The first museum opened in the 15th-century Palazzo Albizzini in 1981 with a representative collection of paintings that Burri arranged and hung. In 1990, a much larger museum displaying some of Burri's later, more monumental pieces opened in a former tobacco-processing factory.[12] Burri donated his artworks and thousands of dollars to the museums. He also left a number of paintings that were to be sold at auction to finance the administration and maintenance of the museum.[13]

Land art of Gibellina Vecchia by Gabriel Valentini

Art market[edit]

At a Sotheby's London sale of works from a private collection in the north of Italy, Burri’s Cobustione legno (1957) was auctioned for 3.2 million in 2011.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Burri was married to American dancer Minsa Craig. In 1963, they began spending winters in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles[15] and the remainder of the year in Italy.[16] In 1991, they settled in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, and moved between there and Italy.[17] The couple kept two houses in Città di Castello, one in the city center, another in the countryside, so that Burri could pursue one of his favorite pastimes, hunting.[18]

Burri died from a respiratory failure at Pasteur Hospital in Nice in February 1995 at the age of 79; he suffered from emphysema.[19]


  1. ^ a b c "Alberto Burri". The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d Gendel, Milton (December 1954). "Burri Makes a Picture" (PDF). Art News: 67–71. 
  3. ^ Melikan, Souren (20 January 2012). "The Painter Alberto Burri's Mad Rush to Destruction". New York Times. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Oisteanu, Valery (February 2008). "Alberto Burri". The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  5. ^ Cumming, Laura (14 January 2012). "Alberto Burri: Form and Matter â€" Review.". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Whitelaw, Mitchell (2004). Metacreations: Art and Artificial Life. MIT Press. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-262-23234-0. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Burri inedito. Ediz. italiana e inglese (in Italian). Distributed Art Pub Incorporated. 2000. p. 40. ISBN 978-88-8158-291-4. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  8. ^ Greverus, Ina-Maria; Ritschel, Ute (2009). Aesthetics and Anthropology: Performing Life, Performed Lives. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 73. ISBN 978-3-643-10002-3. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  9. ^ Collection: Alberto Burri Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  10. ^ Collection: Alberto Burri Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  11. ^ Collection: Alberto Burri Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  12. ^ Elisabetta Povoledo (December 15, 1999), ARTS ABROAD; Battling Over the Legacy of an Italian Modernist New York Times.
  13. ^ Elisabetta Povoledo (December 15, 1999), ARTS ABROAD; Battling Over the Legacy of an Italian Modernist New York Times.
  14. ^ Scott Reyburn (October 14, 2011), Sotheby’s Faces Protest as Freud, Burri Top $63 Million Auction Bloomberg News.
  15. ^ David Pagel (October 17, 2010), Art review: 'Combustione: Alberto Burri and America' at the Santa Monica Museum of Art Los Angeles Times.
  16. ^ Carol Vogel (January 15, 2015), Alberto Burri at the Guggenheim New York Times.
  17. ^ Michael Kimmelman (February 16, 1995), Alberto Burri, Prominent Artist Of Postwar Italy, Is Dead at 79 New York Times.
  18. ^ Elisabetta Povoledo (December 15, 1999), ARTS ABROAD; Battling Over the Legacy of an Italian Modernist New York Times.
  19. ^ Michael Kimmelman (February 16, 1995), Alberto Burri, Prominent Artist Of Postwar Italy, Is Dead at 79 New York Times.

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