Enrico Castellani (1930–2017) was a catalytic figure in the European postwar avant-garde, co-founding the experimental journal, Azimuth, and the Galleria Azimut with Piero Manzoni. Together, they organized innovative exhibitions and published essays that provided alternatives to the dogmatic ideologies of Tachisme and Art Informel, which dominated the European art scene at the time. Through his art and writings, Castellani advanced an approach to painting that refuted the traditional conception of the canvas as a transparent window, opening his work onto a new space of topographical abstraction that engaged notions of space, time, infinity, and flux.
Born in Castelmassa, Italy, in 1930, Castellani studied art and architecture at Belgium’s Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts and École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture et des Arts Décoratifs de la Cambre in the early 1950s. After moving to Milan in 1956, he began to make art that challenged the conventional separation of painting, sculpture, and architecture, searching instead for a paradigm that combined aspects of all three. In 1959, he completed the first of his celebrated Superficie, a series defined by the rhythmic protrusions and recessions of a monochrome surface, typically stretched taut over a pattern of nails. Following a string of successful exhibitions throughout the 1960s, he settled in the small hamlet of Celleno, Italy, in 1973, where he would live and work for the rest of his life. While the purview of his practice expanded to include a variety of materials and formal concerns, his pursuit of a poetic coalescence of painting, sculpture, and architecture never wavered.
Castellani original approach is considered fundamental for the art history of the 20th century, not only in Italy, but also on the international scene; In particular, Donald Judd, who is influenced by Castellani’s work, sees him as the father of minimalism.
Castellani’s works are included in numerous major public collections, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Fondazione Prada, Milan; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma (MACRO), Rome; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. He represented Italy at the Venice Biennales of 1964, 1966, and 1984. In 2010, he became the first Italian artist to receive the Premium Imperiale for Painting, an honor awarded by the Emperor of Japan. Castellani’s work was centrally featured in ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s 60s, a 2014-15 exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, that focused on Group Zero, an international network of artists who pioneered new approaches to light, movement, and space in the aftermath of World War II.
He represented Italy at the Venice Biennale numerous times (1964, 1966, 1984, 2003). In 2010, Castellani receives the Praemium Imperiale for Painting from Prince Hitachi, from the Japan Art Association. He was the first Italian to receive the award, considered the most important artistic recognition at an international level.