Italy’s Comeback: Is the Market Rediscovering Arte Povera?

Lucio Fontana and Alberto Burri are leading the surge.

Lucio Fontana Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio(1963) Photo: Sotheby's via AFP

Postwar European art is undoubtedly experiencing a huge rise in popularity. Following the successful resurgence of the German Group Zero—which enjoyed major retrospectives at the Guggenheim in New York and the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin—Italian Arte Povera is the next European postwar movement experiencing a market rediscovery.

In New York, the Guggenheim Museum is preparing a major retrospective of Alberto Burri’s work, which marks the centenary of the artist’s birth and which will run from October 9, 2015, to January 6, 2016.

One of the key figures of the Arte Povera movement, Burri—who became known for his use of unconventional materials such as burlap, discarded clothing, tar, mold, wood, iron, and plastic—is considered one of the most important influencers on postmodern art in Europe and in the United States.

Alberto Burri Rosso Platica (1963) Photo: Art Market Monitor

Alberto Burri Rosso Platica (1963)
Photo: Art Market Monitor

Coinciding with the Guggenheim show, the London branch of the gallery Mazzoleni Art will open a solo exhibition of Burri’s work. The gallery has gathered many of the pieces from private collections that have rarely been shown together.

Sotheby’s Italian Sale, which will take place during Frieze week in London, includes three works by Burri, including Bianco Plastica I (1961). Benefitting from an illustrious provenance, the renowned Milanese Alessandro Passaré collection, Bianco Platica I has a presale estimate of £1.5-2 million ($2.3-3.1 million).

With a whopping estimate of £15-20m ($22-30 million), Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio (1963) is leading the sale. Even if the hammer price matches only the low estimate, the sale would represent a new auction record for Fontana, whose previous one stands at £13.1 million ($19.9 million).

The seminal Fontana artwork, which Sotheby’s has described as “one of the greatest works of post-war Italian art ever to appear at auction,” has never gone under the hammer and was last shown publicly over thirty years ago.

The Guggenheim will show a major retrospective of Alberto Burri's work. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Guggenheim will show a major retrospective of Alberto Burri’s work.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, the top lot of Christie’s Italian Sale, which will take place on October 16, is a piece by Alberto Burri, again. Entitled Rosso plastic M 1 (1961), the work on canvas has a presale estimate of £2-3 million ($3-6 million).

The question remains whether the prospect of major museum shows and record prices for individual Italian postwar artists will lead to a sustainable resurgence of the entire movement, and if it will drive up prices for related artists such as Piero Manzoni, Enrico Castellani, or Michelangelo Pistoletto.

“Alberto Burri” will be on view at Mazzoleni Art, London, from October 2 – November 30, 2015.

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