Giuseppe Penone donates to the Castello di Rivoli more than two hundred works on paper from 1968 to today and the great work Svolgere la propria pelle – finestra, 1970-2019

The Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea is pleased to announce the donation by the Turin-based artist Giuseppe Penone (Garessio, 1947) of 219 works on paper and archive materials, as well as Svolgere la propria pelle – finestra (To Unravel One’s Skin – Window), 1970-2019, a version of the important work installed by the artist in 1972 at documenta 5 in Kassel. This valuable donation provides an unprecedented opportunity to study Penone’s artistic practice and will be conserved at the CRRI (Castello di Rivoli Research Institute).

The donation to Castello di Rivoli integrates and completes those made in June 2020 to two of the most important international museums: Philadelphia Museum of Art (which received 309 works on paper and 5 limited edition artist books) and the Centre Pompidou in Paris (which received 350 works on paper).

In 2022, the three museums will organize exhibitions dedicated to Penone’s donated materials, most of which have never been exhibited. On that occasion, the Castello di Rivoli’s CRRI will publish a book, conceived in close collaboration with the artist, which will document all the drawings for outdoor public works by the artist, with particular reference to those works just donated to the Museum.

In the words of Giuseppe Penone, written in January 2021 on a sheet of paper that is part of the donation itself, the artist comments on the importance of donating his drawings to a museum located in the same place where he conceives and makes his works, before that they travel around the world:

 “The first intuition, the
first idea for a work of art
written down on a sheet of paper
testifies to the fluctuation
of the imagination before
stiffening in form

It is nice to think of
placing ideas in the places
where they first appeared

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Director of the Castello di Rivoli, states: “It means something when one of the greatest artists in the world decides to donate an exceptional body of works to three major public museums. It represents an act of trust in the ability of public institutions to withstand momentary crises and bad times, and therefore to last over time – a time much longer than that of a single life. It is a question of transmitting to posterity the seeds that are art, confident that they will be able to germinate in a future that is still unimaginable today. Castello di Rivoli is pleased to receive this gift, and grateful for the trust that the artist places in the Museum. Giuseppe Penone’s art explores the foundations of sculpture as a way of knowing and empirically understanding the world. His art is based on the principle of embodying a physical, tactile-visual awareness of all living organisms and their transformations. Penone perceives the world and life in a sculptural way, touching and caressing its parts, without ever distinguishing between nature and culture or, rather, without claiming any superiority of the human being over the rest of the natural world. It is an encounter between the human and the material, between the human and the non-human, issues of skin and touching, elements to which the gifted drawings on paper donated introduce us. The gift of the work Svolgere la propria pelle – finestra (To Unravel One’s Skin – Window), made using the original glass panels of the artist’s installation in Kassel in 1972, is another extraordinary act of generosity.”

“The materials donated by Giuseppe Penone represent an unprecedented opportunity to study the artist’s practice,” adds Andrea Viliani, Head and Curator of CRRI. “Kept at the CRRI, the new research department of Castello di Rivoli, they will be made available to scholars from all over the world, contributing to the dissemination of the knowledge of the artist’s work, in the context of research and poetics relating in various ways to Arte Povera, for which Castello di Rivoli is an institution of reference at an international level. Among the most important artistic movements of the twentieth century, Arte Povera finds its origin in our local region of Piedmont, from which, like Penone himself, a large group of artists come. By reuniting nature and culture, the artist reminds us of the importance of being poetically rooted in the world in which we live. This lesson is urgent and important to our globalized and digitized world, a world in deep crisis from an ecological point of view.”



Works on Paper, 1968-2021

As for the works on paper, the artist’s donation to Castello di Rivoli includes materials on various media – drawings, autographed work notes, handwritten reflections and design sketches, architectural renderings, photographs taken by the artist, annotated photographs all materials that document the creative and staging process and the presentation of the individual works – which enable us to reconstruct the genesis and development of his thought, to retrace the creative processes of his works, to trace the construction details, to contextualize, within his practice, the vision that oversees the preparation and the care he takes over the documentation and final transmission.
The relationship between writing and drawing, text and image, in these papers, testifies to the artist’s philosophical vision, according to which there is no binary distinction between concept and perception, but rather a fluid continuity between world and thought, capable of determining a form of knowledge that is inseparable from sensory experience. As the artist himself states, “Through drawing one thinks; shapes become entangled, materials come together… Drawing comes from a simple matter that when it is outside the sheet of paper is just dirt, but when it is organized in a totality of gestures becomes an object with the pricelessness of thought and evocations.” The set of papers donated to the Museum refers to all the main works of art conceived and created by Penone to be placed in the open space of the Piedmontese region where he lives, works and was born. These are four points of a personal geography that becomes an artistic terrarium and a small ecosystem: the Cuneo area where in 1968 Penone took the first steps of his artistic career, creating interactions with the natural elements in the woods around Garessio (Alpi Marittime – Maritime Alps, 1968); the intervention in the urban space of Turin at the Passante Ferroviario (Albero giardino – Tree-Garden, 1998) and his subsequent return to the city with the sculptural intervention in front of the GAM-Turin (In limine – Threshold, 2008); the large sculpture-garden in the Lower Park of Venaria Reale palace (Il Giardino delle sculture fluide – The Garden of the Fluid Sculptures, 2003-2007, and the subsequent Anafora – Anaphora, 2016, 2019) in the same place; and, finally, the arrival in Rivoli of the imposing double tree in aluminum, bronze and mirror “planted” in 2019 in front of the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea (Identità – Identity, 2017).

To Unravel One’s Skin – Window, 1970-2019

In addition to these works on paper, Penone donated to the Museum the work Svolgere la propria pelle – finestra (To Unravel One’s Skin – Window), 1970-2019, consisting of 19 of his own footprints photographed on film on the glass panels of the Fridericianum in Kassel in 1972, which will be permanently set up in the Museum’s Manica Lunga wing, in the Library room facing the CRRI.    The work, created in a first version in 1970 and presented on the occasion of the documenta 5 exhibition (1972), acquired its current form at the Castello di Rivoli on the occasion of the Museum’s exhibition Harald Szeemann. Museum of Obsessions (26 February – 26 May 2019). An edition of the artist’s book Rovesciare gli occhi (Einaudi, Turin, 1977) will also accompany the donation.

In-depth study: the works to which the materials donated by Giuseppe Penone refer

Alpi Marittime (Maritime Alps, 1968) exists as a photographic work that documents six actions carried out in 1968 in the Garessio forest (Ho intrecciato tre alberi; L’albero ricorderà il contatto; Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto; Crescendo innalzerà la rete; Albero, filo di zinco, piombo; La mia altezza, la larghezza delle mie braccia, il mio spessore in un ruscello). From these  actions made in the woods in 1968, the artist later selected a a series of original shots for a 2008 a photographic work (La mia altezza la lunghezza delle mie braccia il mio spessore in un ruscello; L’albero ricorderà il contatto del mio corpo; I miei anni legati da un filo di rame in attesa di un fulmine; Ho intrecciato tre alberi; Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto; Ho avvicinato due alberi; L’albero crescendo innalzerà i frutti posati sulla rete). In them Penone performs some small gestures that interfere, without interrupting them, with some natural elements: comparing the short time of human action with the inevitable passage of long time of nature, Penone starts his research on contact, the immersion, the intertwining of mineral, vegetable and natural elements that will characterize his work. The donated materials refer not only to the six photographs shown as a work starting from 1968, but also to other unpublished versions of the same, which document the process of preparing the final photographs. 

Albero giardino (Tree-Garden, 1998) was commissioned in 1995 by the city of Turin to integrate its urban redevelopment plan and was carried out on the occasion of Artecittà. 11 artisti per il Passante Ferroviario, curated by Rudi Fuchs (first director of Castello di Rivoli) and Cristina Mundici. Penone’s work, to which the donated materials refer, is located inside the Fallen Garden of Kefalonia and Corfu in Corso Francesco Ferrucci and consists of a walkable gallery that takes the form of a horizontal tree with three branches. The audience that walks through it becomes part of the work as if it were the sap of the horizontal tree. “The structure of the fluids is similar in every element. A stream of water, a tree in its growth and a path have similar shapes,” writes Penone about the work.

Inaugurated in 2007 at the Venaria Reale, curated by the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Il Giardino delle sculture fluide (The Garden of the Fluid Sculptures, 2003-2007) is a garden designed by the artist on the ground of the Parco Basso of the royal palace the Venaria Reale (destroyed in the early 18th century), which extends for five hectares on the trail of the Giardino delle fontane (Garden of the Fountains), designed in the 17th century by the architect Amedeo di Castellamonte. The Garden by Penone consists of fourteen works and was conceived as an experience in which the five senses and the various materials used (trees, water, bronze, granite, marble, stone) mark the passage, affirming a condition of fluidity between the elements and rediscovering the analogies that link the mineral, vegetable and human spheres. The choice of preserving Castellamonte’s scheme of ground squares, which divide the Lower Park into a dozen areas, allows the works conceived by Penone to evoke a spacing that seems to correspond to the rooms of a museum, delimited not by walls but by rows of lime and birch trees with the Alps in the background. In the section of the gardens that extends between the boundary wall and the Peschiera, Penone’s environmental works combine plant elements – trees, hedges, trunks – and the most typical materials of the practice of sculpture – bronze, granite, marble, stone. Instead of the tubs and ornamental compartments of the seventeenth-century Garden, but referring to their rhythm and size, the artist between 2003 and 2007 created a path in which installations and sculptures reinterpret and give life to the lost baroque garden. Among the installations that compose it, Tra scorza e scorza (Between bark and bark), two monumental bronze barks enclosing a large tree, Disegno d’acqua (Water Drawing), a body of water where a fingerprint appears and disappears, Pelle di marmo (Marble Skin), a four hundred-meter long expanse of engraved white veined marble slabs, in close dialogue with the Anatomia (Anatomy) sculpture, whose veins evoke the flow of natural elements.   The path finds its fundamental junctions in the two imposing works Direzione “verso la luce” (Direction “Towards the Light”) and Direzione “verso il centro della terra” (Direction “Towards the Center of the Earth”): the first consists of a monumental bronze tree while the second, placed at the end of the Garden, is overturned, pointing towards the center of the earth. A few years later Penone created Anafora (Anaphora, 2016, 2019), again for Castello di Rivoli, an installation that – in a first exhibition form in 2016 and then in its final permanent version in 2019 – extends his project Il Giardino delle sculture fluide (The Garden of the Fluid Sculptures). Located in the seven caves of the brick wall that delimits the lower garden of the Venaria Reale, this intervention is entitled as a whole Anafora (Anaphora), from the Greek ναφορά (from aná “again”, and phéro “I bring”); here the artist indicates the exercise of a repetition. The seven caves in which seven sculptures are placed – each made up of two blocks of Zebrine marble superimposed like tomes of books – mark the walk of the visitors: one after the other, the works connect to form a text. The seven texts engraved on the marble can be read separately or in succession and form a short text that describes the contents of the previous intervention represented by the other works in Il Giardino delle sculture fluide (The Garden of the Fluid Sculptures).

In limine (Threshold, 2008) was created and presented on the occasion of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, commissioned by the Fondazione De Fornaris, to be positioned in front of the GAM-Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Turin and part of the collections of the Fondazione De Fornaris on permanent loan to the Museum. The sculpture, made of Carrara marble, bronze, lime and ivy, forms a “portal” that symbolically marks the entrance to the museum. In the words of Giuseppe Penone, “The work was born with the intention of creating a sign that indicates the transition from the space of the city to the sacral space of the museum, in whose works lie the values and meanings that motivate our existence. Every time we cross its door we find the past and we project ourselves into the future. A block of marble, a material that comes from the subsoil, supports a tree, grown in contact with the stone, uprooted and cast in bronze. The roots continue in the intertwining of the marble veins. The trunk is inclined, in an unstable position and only its branches rise. At the end, a small tree lives by intertwining branches and leaves with bronze branches and visually supports its weight. The lowest volatile and precarious parts of the tree, the leaves, stretched out in search of light, are the instrument of its growth and are opposed, with the action of photosynthesis, to the force of gravity. The secret life of matter lies in the movement of fluids. The veins are the trace of an existence that develops in the body of things, appears in the marble, in the roots, in the bark, in the branches, in the leaves and in man.”

On the occasion of the solo exhibition Incidenze del vuoto (12 October 2019 – 2 February 2020), organized in collaboration with the Fondazione CRC and presented at the San Francesco Church in Cuneo, the work Identità (Identity, 2017) was installed at the main entrance of the Castello di Rivoli, where it is still located. The work consists of a bronze tree on which the artist has grafted an albino aluminum copy which, upside down, seems to dematerialize the wooden physicality of the plant. Since the two trees are not mirror images, the artist has produced a symmetry of some of their parts using mirrors, set in the branches. By producing a refraction of the branches on both sides, the mirrors rejoin each tree with its own mirrored identity. The mirrors are inserted not in a physical space of emptiness to be filled, but in that ethereal place of specularity, the only one where symmetry can exist. Welcoming the visitor at the main entrance of the Castello di Rivoli, this work is inscribed in Penone’s research, with its intertwining of material and diaphanous presences, continuing the exploration of the notion of encounter, which focuses on the sense of duality. Here, reflection is embodied matter, the liminal space of sculpture and the space of the slightest contact of bodies. From the beginning, the image of the tree has supported the construction of Penone’s artistic edifice, as evidenced by the other works of the artist in the collection, directing the contents of his investigation both towards the plant world, with the intention of visualizing and modify the natural growth processes of the elements, both towards the body which has always been the object of his research. The donated materials are a selection of preparatory drawings for this work.


Giuseppe Penone in the exhibition history and Collection of the Castello di Rivoli 

The Turin-based artist Giuseppe Penone has exhibited on numerous occasions at Castello di Rivoli since its inauguration in 1984 and has been a member of the Advisory Committee of the Museum since 2017.
After the solo exhibition Giuseppe Penone in 1991 at Castello di Rivoli, the Museum organized and curated a second solo exhibition in 2019 at the Monumental Complex of San Francesco of Cuneo and at Castello di Rivoli entitled Giuseppe Penone: Incidenze del vuoto.
The artist’s works have also been presented in numerous group exhibitions including Ouverture, the museum’s inaugural exhibition in 1984, and, to follow: Standing Sculpture (1987), Un’avventura internazionale, Torino e le Arti 1950-1970 (1993), Collezionismo a Torino (1996), Arte Povera in Collezione (2000), Una stanza tutta per sé (2008), Exhibition | Exhibition (2010), Arte Povera International (2011), Oltre il muro (2012), TUTTTOVERO LA NOSTRA CITTA’ LA NOSTRA ARTE TORINO (2015), Un taglio contemporaneo. Capolavori dalla Collezione permanente (2017), up to Harald Szeemann. Museum of Obsessions and Da parte degli artisti: dalla casa al museo, dal museo alla casa. Omaggi alle opere della Collezione Cerruti (2019). In 2002 his works were also presented in the exhibition Arte Povera from the Castello di Rivoli Collection at the MCA Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, in 2011 in Arte Povera in Moscow: Works from the Collection of the Castello di Rivoli at the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow and in 2018 in the exhibition, organized in collaboration with the Castello di Rivoli, Arte Povera. A Creative Revolution at the State Museum Hermitage in St Petersburg.

The museum already houses in its Permanent Collection five of the most representative works of the artist, which range from 1969 to 2003, four of which are permanent loans by the Fondazione per l’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea CRT (Albero di 5 metri – 5-meter Tree, 1969-1970; Albero di 11 metri – 11-meter Tree, 1969-1989; Respirare l’ombra – Breathing the Shadow, 1999 and Pelle di foglie (Sguardo a terra) – Skin of Leaves (Gaze to Earth), 2003). The work Soffio di creta (Clay Breath, 1978) was donated to the Museum by the Fondazione Marco Rivetti.

 Albero di 5 metri (5-meter Tree, 1969-1970) and Albero di 11 metri (11-meter Tree, 1969-1989) belong to a cycle of works called Alberi (Trees) to which he has dedicated himself from 1969 up to more recent years. Starting from industrial-type wooden beams, through a work of engraving, carving and excavation, the trunk and branches of the original tree emerge, identifiable from the visible knots in the wood. With a procedure defined by the artist as “debarking” he extracts the shape of a younger tree whose image is still preserved inside. These works testify to his interest in the experimental phase of the work and despite being conceived as autonomous and independent forms, they are the result of a singular research project that consists in the regeneration of the forest, as evidenced by the large installation articulated in the space of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1980.

In the cycle of works dedicated to the Soffi (Breaths) and performed starting from the late seventies, the artist has recovered from the world of mythology the image of the breath as the origin of man and a vital and energetic element. Mindful of classical philosophical reminiscences, in Soffio di creta (Clay Breath – 1978), Penone wanted to make solid what is immaterial, reproducing the volume of his own breath that takes physical consistency and takes the shape of a vase on which the imprint of his body molded on clay.    The work explores the act of exhaling as the expulsion of air from the lungs which, in contact with the atmosphere, becomes form: a way to make visible and tangible an act that accompanies us day by day throughout our life.

Respirare l’ombra (Breathing the Shadow, 1999) belongs to a group of more recent works in which, through large environmental installations, Penone elaborates real visual and sensorial paths. Although belonging to a different chronological period, this work presents itself as a complementary reading to the research begun with the Soffi (Breaths), in which the artist investigates and penetrates the moment of inhalation: the sculpture is introduced from the outside into our bodies in the moment in which we breathe it in through smells. The work looks like an a room covered with laurel leaves, while in the center of one of the walls a lung composed of gilded bronze leaves is visible. By combining the intense scent of leaves with the idea of breathing, the artist not only defines the boundaries of space and the shape of the place, but confirms that his interest is not directed towards representation but rather towards the physical evocation and suggestion of a poetic image.

Pelle di foglie (Sguardo a terra) (Skin of Leaves – Gaze to Earth, 2003) is also inscribed in the continuity of this research on the surface, on the sensitivity of the skin and on the relationship between the plant and human world, in which the artist evokes and poetically explores the primary relationship with natural matter, evoking its mythical aspects. The image of this tree figure that extends into space is the emanation of a memory linked to classical myths, where mythology is never a direct source, but rather a suggestion, an impression that meets an echo and a foundation in the exaltation of nature and empathy with the plant world. The sensuality of this sculptural form finds a correspondence in the medium used, bronze, the metal of classical sculpture par excellence, which, thanks to its metamorphic properties, summarizes the artist’s poetics and lets his sensitivity towards the infinite fluidity of each material emerge.


Giuseppe Penone. A Biography

Giuseppe Penone was born in Garessio (Cuneo) in 1947 in the Piedmont region of Italy. One of the most important and recognized sculptors in the world, he began exhibiting his work in 1968 and joined the group of Arte Povera artists based in Turin. In his sculptures and installations focussed on trees, dating from 1968, the fabrication process is an integral part of the work and consists of the actions performed by the artist, in a dialectical relationship with the natural processes that give shape to the material,  revealing its exceptional and ever-changing qualities. The tree, which Penone considers “the first and simplest idea of vitality, culture, sculpture”, is a central element in his work. Penone makes the study of analogies between cultural and natural forms the fulcrum of his artistic practice, exploring the common essence that unites human beings and nature in a continuous state of mutual participation and symbiosis. Reflecting from the beginning of his research on the concept of fluidity and convinced that all elements – minerals, plants, animals and humans – are in fact fluid, Penone weaves an intense and uninterrupted discourse on the analysis of reality and matter. Starting from personal reflections that respond to the cultural context in which he grew up and the historical moment in which he made his debut as a sculptor, the artist represents the bond with the earth and the landscape through the image of the tree and the body, with the intent to visualize and modify the natural growth processes of the elements and their interconnection. His works examine the mechanisms related to transformation and investigate the dimension of matter, claiming the intention of building an evolutionary continuity with the linguistic aspects of classical sculpture.Penone lives and works in Turin.
He participated in Prospect ‘69 in Düsseldorf and Konzeption-Conception in Leverkusen (1969), in Aktionsraum I in Munich, Processi di pensiero visualizzati in Lucerne, Conceptual Art, Arte Povera, Land Art in Turin and at the 10th Tokyo Biennale (1970) and subsequently in various editions of documenta in Kassel (1972, 1977, 1982, 1987, 2012) and of the Venice Biennale (1978, 1980, 1986, 1995, 2007) where in 2007 he represented Italy, while in 2008 he participated in the 16th Sydney Biennial. In 2007 he exhibited his works at the Reggia di Venaria and in 2013 in the Gardens of the Palace of Versailles and Madison Square Park in New York, in 2014 in the Boboli Gardens in Florence and in 2016 in the gardens of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In 2014 he received the Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award for Sculpture. In 2017 he created one of the first works of contemporary art commissioned for the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Among his most recent solo exhibitions are those at Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea and the Musée de la Ville de Strasbourg (1991) and at the Carré d’Art-Musée d’art Contemporain in Nîmes, at the Kunstmuseum in Bonn and at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Buenos Aires (1997), at the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea in Santiago de Compostela (1999), at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and at the Fundació La Caixa in Barcelona (2004), at the Museum Kurhaus in Kleve (2006), at the MAMbo- Museo d’Arte Moderna in Bologna, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and at Villa Medici-Académie de France in Rome (2008), at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art (2009), at the Whitechapel Gallery in London (2012), at the Kunstmuseum in Winterthur (2013), at the Musée de Grenoble (2014), at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts in Lausanne (2015), at the MART in Rovereto and at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (2016), at the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome (2017), at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield (2018) and at the Palais d’Iéna-CESE in Paris (2019).

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