In 1959, two Milan-based artists – Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni – opened the gallery Azimut, their platform for a new impersonal approach to art that was captivating the avant-garde in Europe and beyond. It’s an indication of Azimut’s lasting influence that both Castellani and Manzoni have shows opening in London this week.
Castellani especially is an artist who has lost none of his mystique. His show at Dominique Lévy gallery, simply titled 'Enrico Castellani', is based on two series of paintings that he has been developing since the days of Azimut. Most of these works have never been shown in London.
The first series is the Superfici bianche, white canvases stretched across geometric arrangements of nails, forming patterned reliefs of protrusions and dimples. The other, the Angolare cromato and Biangolare cromato ('Angular' and 'Bi-angular chrome') are curved canvases that shimmer with layers of black and metallic paint. There is also a superb sculpture, Spartito, 2004, made from hundreds of sheets of paper layered into a graceful wave.
The secret to Castellani’s work is a contrast between stark, repetitive aesthetics and an almost infinite scope for contemplation. For these are all shapes and patterns which could, in theory, be repeated endlessly and maintain the same form. Thus, they are gateways into the philosophical realms of time and space, a notion almost grasped by simply standing in front of them. The structural simplicity and subtle use of light and shadow are mesmerising.
It seems, then, that Castellani’s limited oeuvre has allowed him to achieve a rare intensity. Here we can safely say that less is more.