If you happen to be in New York this spring, Enrico Castellani’s new exhibit, Interior Space, at the uptown gallery Dominique Levy is worth a visit. It’s the first solo exhibition of the revered Italian artist in the gallery, and it spans Castellani’s oeuvre from the 60s to the near present.
Castellani was part of the Zero movement, which is now having a resurgence of interest with museum and gallery exhibits around the world, and he, along with his acquaintance Lucio Fontana, is one of the best known Italian figures of the mid-20th Century avant-garde.
As contemporary art has matured, or became stuck, depending on your view, its questions have gradually become more specialized and narrow (or shallow, if you want to be cynical). I will leave the musings about questioning the role of canvas and three-dimensionality of space to the art theorists and concentrate on the paintings’ effect instead.
What I loved about Castellani’s work exhibited at Dominique Levy was how they slowed down time and drew you in. It was a counterintuitive experience, since minimalism is supposed to be, well, minimal. But I spent more time in front of some of Castellani’s paintings than I’d spent noticing minute gradations of color tones of Monet’s lilies or studying the patterns of Jackson Pollock’s drippings.
Castellani’s signature technique is to manipulate the shape of the canvas, either by hammering nails into it or by stretching it into various concave and convex shapes by mounting them on three-dimensional frames of his own invention. Then he paints them over in monochrome, letting the canvas play the main role.
The gradual variations of space created by distorting the canvas and the way they reflect light are the thing that pulls you in and makes you pay attention to the work. Stand at various distances away from the paintings and your perception changes.
And because of this constantly changing perspective, some of the paintings look nothing like their photos. Though if you want a memento, you can purchase an excellent catalogue that accompanies the exhibit with an extensive interview of the artist by the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Enrico Castellani: Interior Space
Dominique Levy, 909 Madison Avenue, New York
through May 21, 2016
All photos are courtesy of the gallery.