If I had to pick the twentieth-century European artist to whom American art historians and art museums should pay more attention, I’d pick Italian physician Alberto Burri. (Yes, physician. Burri was an MD!) Burri has been important to lots of American artists of the post-war era, from Lee Bontecou to Mark Bradford.
On this week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast features Paul Schimmel, the former chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the curator of the new MOCA exhibition “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962.” The show is accompanied by a fascinating catalogue. One of the artists about whom we talk the most is Burri, including details of Burri’s experiences in the United States as a prisoner of war during World War II.
Schimmel’s exhibition examines the way artists responded to the unprecedented killing and destruction of World War II by (often) literally attacking the picture plane. The show, which features 26 artists (but only three Americans) charts the way artists used abstraction to respond to a post-atomic world, and in so doing offers an alternate history about post-abstract expressionism abstract art.
I don’t mean to suggest that Burri is wholly absent from American art museum collections: MoMA has a nice one, the Art Institute of Chicago has three and the Kemper Museum at Washington University in St. Louis has a couple as well. The one pictured here, Bianco (detail above, full here, 1952), is in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.