Alberto Burri (Italian, 1915–1995) is one of the most prominent Italian Abstract painters of the 20th century. Beginning his career as a doctor rather than an artist, Burri earned a medical degree at the University of Perugia in 1940, and then worked as a physician during World War II. He was imprisoned with his captured unit at a prisoner-of-war camp in Texas, where he painted on burlap. After his release in 1946, he moved to Rome to become an artist. Like many Italian artists working in the late 1940s, Burri turned away from the politicized realism popular at the time, and towards abstraction, becoming a proponent of Art Informel. He subsequently experimented with various unorthodox materials, producing textured collages with pumice, tar, and burlap in order to break with the traditional two-dimensional surface. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Burri burned his mediums in a technique he called “combustion”; he also started to burn plastic works in the early 1960s. In the early 1970s, Burri began his “cracked” paintings series, creating works with creviced surfaces resembling chipped soil that explore the illusionistic properties of painting. In the late 1970s, Burri turned to another industrial material, Cellotex, and continued to use it in his work for the next few decades. Burri’s use of materials such as nails, burlap, or tar in his work, and his breaking, burning, and assemblage techniques reflect on his early experiences at war and his interpretation of Art Informel aesthetics. His work has been shown internationally in group exhibitions and at several shows at the Venice Biennale and documenta in Kassel. Several successful retrospectives of his work have been presented at institutions including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris. One year before his death in Nice, France in 1995, Alberto Burri received the Italian Order of Merit.

Timeline

1915
Born March 12 in Città di Castello, Italy
1940
Earned his medical degree in 1940 from the University of Perugia and served as a physician during World War II
1944
Following his unit’s capture in northern Africa, he was interned in a prisoner-of-war camp in Hereford, Texas where he started to paint on the burlap that was at hand
1946
Released from camp and moved to Rome, where his first solo show was held at the Galleria La Margherita the following year
1949–1950
Experimented with various unorthodox materials, fabricating tactile collages with pumice, tar, and burlap
1953
Gained attention in the United States: his work was included in the group exhibition Younger European Painters at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and was shown as well at the Frumkin Gallery, Chicago, and the Stable Gallery, New York
1959
Won the Premio dell’Ariete in Milan and the UNESCO Prize at the São Paulo Bienal
1977
Retrospective of work inaugurated at the University of California’s Frederick S. Wight Gallery, Los Angeles
1994
Presented Italian Order of Merit
1995
Died February 15 in Nice, France

Exhibitions

1999
Omaggio a Alberto Burri-Grafica e Scultura, Comune di Colonnella, Teramo, Italy
1996–1997
Palazzo del Esposizioni, Rome, Italy; Städtische Galerie, Munich, Germany; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium
1995
Alberto Burri mostra omaggio, Galleria II Segno, Rome, Italy
1990
Perielio: Burri-Saffo, Italian Cultural Institute, Athens, Greece
1988
Alberto Burri graphics, M. Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
1985
Burri, Combustioni, Cretti, Cellotex 1974-1984, Galerie Artcurial, Paris, France
1980
Alberto Burri, Il Viaggio, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich, Germany
1979
Alberto Burri 1978-1979, J. Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles, California
1977–1978
(retrospective) University of California’s Frederick S. Wight Gallery, Los Angeles, California; Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, San Antonio, Texas; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
1977
Galleria 2RC, Milan-Rome, Italy
1972
(Retrospective) Musée National d’ Art Moderne, Paris
1967
Kunsthalle, Darmstadt, Germany
1963–1964
(Retrospective), The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California; Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, California
1962
Marlborough Galleria, Rome
1960
Hanover Gallery, London, England
1959
Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium
1958
Galleria Blu, Milan, Italy
1957
Galleria dell’Obelisco, Rome, Italy
1955
The Stable Gallery, New York
1952
Galleria d’Arte Contemporanea, Florence, Italy
1948
Galleria dell’Angelo, Città di Castello, Italy
1947
Galleria La Margherita, Rome, Italy