Magic touch: Giuseppe Penone’s tactile sculptures at Marian Goodman gallery

Magic touch: Giuseppe Penone’s tactile sculptures at Marian Goodman gallery

Giuseppe Penone has worked with wood for most of his illustrious career. His first pieces were made in a forest outside of his home town of Garessio in 1968, and he is best known for his Tratterne series, in which a bronze hand is cast onto a living tree. It’s fitting, then, that London’s Marian Goodman Gallery has been transformed into a dreamlike forest for a new survey of the Italian artist’s conceptual work.

The ghostly white space is punctuated by sculptural trees, a wall of dark laurel leaves and ramshackle assemblages of broken branches. It feels like stepping into a woodland scene from a fairytale – the moral of which questions our place within the eco-system, and asks us how the human hand imprints upon the natural world.

Throughout, there’s a tug-of-war going on between natural and man-made materials. Tree bark gives way to pristine white marble; a cage of branches is topped with smooth terracotta tiles; clear thumb-prints are left in a line of clay portraits of Penone’s daughter. An imposing canvas covered in a freeform scattering of Acacia thorns sways it – manufactured materials have surrendered to the organic ones. This overpowering is aided by the heady, almond-purfume from the laurel leaves that swirls around the gallery, inducing visitors into zen-like state.

Penone once said, ’Tactile perception brings us closer to the present.’ Marian Goodman have taken this concept, and nurtured it. One leaves the London space as if having spent the day in a spa; more mindful because of Penone’s own mindfulness. A parallel exhibition in Marian Goodman’s Paris outpost continues to peel back the layers of Penone’s fascinating and continuing ouevre. If it’s anything like the therapeutic London show, it will be well worth a visit.

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