“The best place to hide anything is in plain view.” –Edgar Allan Poe, The Purloined Letter (1844).
BURRI PROMETHEIA highlighted an artwork of monumental dimensions (15 x 5 meters) whose architectural function as a wall (between Sculpture Garden and Melnitz Hall) almost underplays its presence: the Grande Nero Cretto (Large Black Crack), the largest work that Italian artist Alberto Burri ever created outside Italy, gifted to the UCLA campus 40 years ago.
The title of the event, which occurred January 9-10, 2017 at Royce Hall, recalled not only the metaphor of Burri’s ceaseless artistic research, but also the primordial significance of fire, which he attuned to poetical form in almost all of his materials, (jute, wood, iron, plastic) including the 700 fired-ceramic core pieces of the Cretto of UCLA. At this event the world premiere of the film VARIAZIONI: A Visual Polyphony tied the beginnings of Burri’s combustions to the visionary lyrics of his friend and mentor, the poet Emilio Villa (1914-2003). The film by independent researcher Giuseppe Sterparelli (project creator together with professor Thomas Harrison) has the Death Valley desert as setting, the same location that inspired Burri in the creation of his Cretti (crack-paintings). The film is based on a dialogue between Villa’s poems – read voice-off by actor Roberto Latini, awarded as 2014 best Italian stage actor – and Lisa Rinzler’s photography (Emmy award, Sundance prize and many others).
Prior to the screening of the film professors Bruno Corà, President of the Alberto Burri Foundation, and Gian Maria Annovi (USC) contextualized the birth of Burri’s work and the mutually vital relationship he shared with poet Villa, in an “atemporal” perspective, combining writing and painting as language’s intrinsic germinal forces in a constant collision of harmony and chaos. The fire employed by the painter fused planning to casualness, analogously to the synthesis between ordered logos and pure phoné of Villa’s poetic variations.
On the heels of this assumption, poet Paul Vangelisti, professor Harrison, and graduate student Nina Bjekovic set up a public reading in front of the Cretto of an unpublished manuscript Villa wrote in 1952 on Burri’s painting, followed by a percussive performance by John Densmore of The Doors (whose original members met precisely there, at the UCLA Film School, in 1964).
The visual artist Alessandro Marianantoni’s light installation Desert Flows closed the first day’s events in an extraordinary highlighting of the Cretto’s formal values in an ideal convergence and vital dualism of the organic component (earth) with the liquid one (water), thus enabling a direct link with the environmental subject matter illustrated by Nurit Katz during the afternoon symposium.
With the screening of Luca Severi’s documentary Alberto Burri and Piero della Francesca: The WTwo Revolutions (2015) at the Italian Institute of Culture the following day, an equally rich recognition of Burri’s cultural identity was concluded. By dominating the process of burning as a creative rather than destructive force, the 20th-century painter reached the same sense of grace and balance as the Renaissance master who lived in the same area, between Tuscany and Umbria, almost 500 years before.
40th Anniversary of Alberto Burri’s Grande Nero Cretto Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden, UCLA (1977/2017)
UCLA Royce Hall, Italian Institute Culture, Los Angeles, January 9-10, 2017
Organized by UCLA Department of Italian, Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles
Curated by: Giuseppe Sterparelli and Thomas Harrison
Under the Patronage of Italian Minister of Heritage, Culture and Tourism