Enrico Castellani (August 4, 1930 – December 1, 2017) was an Italian painter associated with the ZERO movement and Azimuth. Castellani contributed the development of avant-garde art in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, and was described as one of Italy's most influential artists of the 20th century,
Castellani was born in Castelmassa located in Veneto. He studied sculpture and painting at Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in 1952 and architecture at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Belgium (1956). He is best known for his "paintings of light" that merge art, spaciality and architecture to transcend the ethereal boundaries of painting. In 1956 Castellani returned to Italy and met artists like Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni who were pushing Italian avant-garde art.
His original approach is considered fundamental for the art history of the 20th century, not only in Italy, but also on the international scene; In particular, Castellani influenced Donald Judd, who saw him as the father of minimalism.
Castellani's work has been exhibited at the most renowned institutions in the world including the MoMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels and he has represented Italy at the Venice Biennale in 1964, 1966, 1984 and 2003. He has had retrospective exhibitions at Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia; Kettle's Yard in Cambridge; the Prada Foundation in Milan; The Modern and Contemporary Civic Gallery in Latina in Trento; and Palazzo Fabroni in Pistoia. Castellani was the 2010 recipient of the Praemium Imperiale for Painting, the first Italian artist ever to receive this honor.
In 1959, Castellani and Piero Manzoni founded the Milan gallery Azimut and the affiliated journal “Azimuth,” organizing international exhibitions and publishing essays that opposed the dominant art movements in Europe at the time. They wanted to announce that, although they had been involved with the then prominent movements of Abstract Expressionism and Art Informel at the beginning, they were now in a different but still radical place. They discussed the beginnings and the decline of Art informel and put forward a new objective language with the presentation of works by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana and others.
The Angolare (“Angular”) series consists of 12 painted works from 1960 to 1965 for which Castellani fabricated corner-shaped armatures that impose concave and convex curvatures on the canvas, yielding subtly disorienting perceptual and spatial effects.
Moving beyond the spatially suggestive quality of his Angolare series, Castellani produced his first environment in 1967. Called the Ambiente Bianco (“White Environment”), the work was a spatially enclosing structure formed by interlocking canvases of geometric and angled shapes. The work was destroyed following its exhibition. In 1970 Castellani reconstructed the environment, adding a floor and ceiling, and reintroduced it as Spazio Ambiente (“Environment Space”) in the landmark exhibition “Vitality of the Negative in Italian Art 1960/70” at Rome's Palazzo delle Esposizioni. Spazio Ambiente is a 360-degree painting executed in a translucent white acrylic that produces a luminescent and transcendental optical effect. Castellani's work demonstrates the power of abstract painting to transform space and encompass the viewer. Together the Angolare works and Spazio Ambiente articulate Castellani's determination to produce unprecedented and dynamic spatial experiences while using the traditional canvas.
Castellani focused upon manipulating the surface configurations of his canvases to alter perceptions of space. He produced monochromatic pieces rendered dynamic by the action of disturbing elements: nails. Indeed, behind a canvas stretched over a wood frame, Castellani places nails that raise or lower the canvas and so create an interplay of light and shadow.
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