Eyes Wide Open: An Italian Vision, the most important private collection of Arte Povera ever to be shown in the UK, will explore the movement’s roots in the work of Post-War Italian artists Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni and Fausto Melotti and its flowering in the works of artists such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, Alighero Boetti, Mario Merz, Luciano Fabro, Giulio Paolini, Pino Pascali, Giuseppe Penone and Emilio Prini. Exceptionally, this collection also investigates Arte Povera’s legacy in the work of artists as diverse as Cy Twombly, Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, Tony Cragg, Rosemarie Trockel and Thomas Schütte.
Carefully assembled over the past 25 years by an Italian couple, this single-owner collection encompasses 109 powerful works by a vast range of celebrated artists. The title ‘Eyes Wide Open’ reflects the collectors’ intense vision – one focused on Arte Povera that also encompasses international contemporary art – and works will be presented in the catalogue as seen through the collectors’ eyes.
Christie’s will also stage an international tour of highlights from the collection in Turin, Milan, New York, Dallas, Chicago and London, with talks by prominent curators, including Massimiliano Gioni, Director of the 2013 Venice Biennale, and Richard Flood, Chief Curator of the New Museum in New York.
A highlight of the collection is Lei e Lui – Maria e Michelangelo (estimate: £600-800,000) by Michelangelo Pistoletto, a key member of the Arte Povera movement. This life-sized, double-portrait ‘mirror-painting’ depicts the artist and his life-long companion and artistic collaborator Maria Pioppi facing each other in an act of intimacy and union. It also reflects the intimate relationship of the collectors and their passionate search for art. Executed at the beginning of 1968, this work was a centrepiece of one of Pistoletto’s most famous exhibitions at the Galleria L’Attico, Rome, in 1968.
Further highlights of the sale include a monumental shaped canvas by Pino Pascali entitled Torso di negra al bagno (estimate on request), a mesmerizing totem of femininity that appears to have erupted from the floor. Hovering between abstraction and figuration, this monolithic shiny black torso of a woman in a bathing costume, two-metres high, also asserts itself as an anti-monument and alternative to the European tradition of a white Venus rising from the waves. Surrounded at its base by cartoon-like, linear curves that simulate ripples around her, this black ’Venus’, created in 1964, is a masterpiece of Pascali’s tragically brief career. It is the sole stand-alone sculpture in the series of deliberately artificial hollow canvas ‘feigned-sculptures’ and ‘object-paintings’ that Pascali made for his first solo exhibition at La Galleria Tartaruga in Rome in 1965.
Another key work is Luciano Fabro’s striking sculpture Piede (Foot), with its startling contrast between a giant, claw-like polished bronze foot and its thin, light, towering column of radiant blue silk reaching to the ceiling (estimate: £800,000-1,200,000). A fantastic mix of luxurious materials and natural history, it is part of the extraordinary series of Piedi (Feet) made between 1968 -71 that Fabro exhibited at the 1972 Venice Biennale. The sale also features an igloo sculpture by Mario Merz which, like so many of the artist’s works, is an exercise in fluid creativity – a structure that infuses the space around it with light, energy and a pervasive sense of the endless procreative flow of the cosmos (estimate on request). The collection will also present a selection of enigmatic photographs by Emilio Prini, exemplified by a rare and important piece, Untitled, produced in 1968, which provides a trace of a performance by Prini in 1968 (estimate: £30,000-40,000). As curator Hans Ulrich Obrist describes the artist: “Since the late 1960s, Emilio Prini has exerted a very strong influence on artists, critics and curators, yet he nonetheless remains an enigmatic figure in the pantheon of Arte Povera and early conceptual art practices.
The Italian Post-War section of the sale includes iconic work by Alberto Burri, a major influence on Arte Povera. His work explores materials and their transformation through processes such as chemical reactions or burning, as in his Combustione plastica (estimate: £1,700,000-2,200,000). Burri, who also influenced international artists such as Rauschenberg and Tapies, will be the subject of a major retrospective at the Guggenheim, New York in 2015. The Post-War section also includes an exceptional group of four Natura sculptures by Lucio Fontana, two terracotta pieces and two bronze pieces, including Concetto Spaziale, Natura, executed in terracotta in 1959-1960 (estimate: £700,000 – 1,000,000).