Marshall Plan Modernism: Italian Postwar Abstraction and the Beginnings of Autonomia
Alberto Burri’s Plastics and the Political Aesthetics of Opacity
In 1955, Alberto Burri began using a new material: polyvinyl acetate, a type of plastic frequently used for binding purposes (in glues, for example, or for book binding). It did not become interchangeable among the other materials with which Burri experimented but precipitated a specific procedural economy: irrevocable violence. In 1944, while interred in Texas a prisoner of war, after his capture during service in the Italian army in North Africa, Burri had started to make art works by painting on and stitching together burlap sacks. This aesthetic decision was motivated by the situation: they were the only available material support, a substitute for canvas. On his return to Italy, he continued to work with this natural material and to apply his previous professional training as a medical doctor to pieces of the cloth, with precision, in order to construct objects that seemed to hybridize painting and collage. By 1955, opening his practice to this new material, plastic, Burri moved from tearing and stitching, made possible by burlap, to forms of irreparable destruction, such as burning and exploding. In 1956, he inaugurated thirteen years of experiments with a variety of plastics, from opaque polyvinyl to transparent cellophane. Red Plastic from 1963, is a topography of aggressive color and texture and a procedural topology moving among the primary terms of modernism, such as figuration and abstraction, failing to resolve their tension but nonetheless pushing it in a direction responsive to the historical horizon of economic recovery and its discontents.