The veins of water that pour from the earth flow in trickles that merge, like the branches in the trunk, like the fingers in the palm of a hand, like the bronze in the matrix of a tree.
Throughout his fifty-year career, Giuseppe Penone has employed a wide range of materials and forms in an exploration of the fundamental language of sculpture. A protagonist of Arte Povera, Penone explores respiration, growth, and aging—among other involuntary processes—to create an expansive body of work including sculpture, performance, works on paper, and photography.
Penone’s early performance-based works evolved in direct response to the forests near his native village of Garessio, Italy, where he interacted with trees, water, and marble. In the Alpi Marittime (Maritime Alps) works (1968), his gestures and interventions left physical traces over extended periods of time: tree trunks were distorted by copper wire, stones, and bronze casts of the artist’s hand; mechanisms made of ropes and deer hides reacted to the weather; and casts of Penone’s face, hands, and feet were immersed in a stream bed.
In 1969 Penone created the first of his Alberi (Trees): “stripped” trees made by carving into mature timbers and removing the wood along the outer growth rings to reveal the memory of a sapling at the core of the trunk. This ongoing series has taken on various permutations as Penone refines his techniques and experiments with different sizes and installations. In 1970 he even carved an Albero in the presence of an audience, merging sculpture and performance. This same year he made the Rovesciare i propri occhi (Reversing One’s Eyes) works, in which he wore custom-made mirrored contact lenses and had himself photographed. The lenses, though they deprived the artist of his own gaze, allowed him to objectively record images, literally reflecting his surroundings.
During this period Penone also began to explore different ways of documenting his work, as well as his body’s interactions with sculpture. In the Svolgere la propria pelle (To Unroll One’s Skin) series (1970–71), he captured the intricate patterns of rock and bark, skin and hair, through frottage (taking rubbings on sheets of paper), imprints (pressing his body into surfaces), and photography. Then, with the Soffi (Breath) works (1977–), Penone attempted to translate into sculpture the ephemeral phenomenon of breath. He took photographs of light powder that he had blown into the air and translated the cloud-like forms into bronze sculptures, drawings, and vase-like constructions.
Essere fiume (To be a River, 1981) marked an important turning point in Penone’s practice. Extracting chunks of stone or marble from the source of a river, he carved them so that they resembled the smaller, smoother stones at the bottom of the riverbed, mimicking the effects of water on the rocks’ shape and size. Then, returning to an investigation of the figure, Penone began the Gesti vegetali (Vegetal Gestures) works (1982–), hollow anthropomorphic sculptures whose forms were based on single gestures or movements.
In the 1990s Penone worked on the Anatomie (Anatomies, 1992–), which included Carrara marble and other stones carved in high relief to echo vascular and muscular systems, as well as the Propagazioni (Propagations, 1995), a series of drawings based on the concentric linear patterns of a fingerprint. Since then he has continued to expand upon many of his earlier series and to work on the Idee di pietra (Ideas of Stone) sculptures (2003–), in which he juxtaposes rocks and trees to highlight the balance between verticality and horizontality and the interplay of gravity and growth. Penone has also designed two gardens, one in Turin and one in the Reggia di Venaria in Piedmont.
In Penone’s work, sculptural transformations draw the viewer’s attention to details that have long existed but are easily overlooked. By bringing the grandeur—as well as the modesty and intimacy—of raw but also cultural material into various settings, Penone raises questions about sculpture and its essence.
Extended through November 27, 2021
Impronte di corpi nell’aria / Bodies Imprinted in the Air
September 16–November 27, 2021
Extended through November 30, 2019
Foglie di bronzo / Leaves of Bronze
September 12–November 30, 2019
Augurs of Spring
As spring approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, Sydney Stutterheim reflects on the iconography and symbolism of the season in art both past and present.
Giuseppe Penone: By the Bay
Elizabeth Mangini writes on Giuseppe Penone’s installation of two sculptures at San Francisco’s Fort Mason.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2020
The Spring 2020 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #412 (2003) on its cover.
Giuseppe Penone at Fort Mason
An outdoor installation by Giuseppe Penone in San Francisco’s historic Fort Mason features two life-size bronze sculptures cast from fallen trees. The project continues the artist’s long investigation of the perpetual give-and-take between humans and nature. In this video, Penone discusses what drew him to this landscape and the concepts behind the installation.
Giuseppe Penone: Foglie di bronzo / Leaves of Bronze
Gagosian director Pepi Marchetti Franchi speaks about Giuseppe Penone’s recent exhibition in San Francisco, detailing the various works and their relationships to the artist’s long-standing sculptural practice.
Rain of Light
One year after the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Jean Nouvel and Giuseppe Penone sat down with Alain Fleischer, Pepi Marchetti Franchi, and Hala Wardé to reflect on how the museum and Penone’s commissioned artworks for the space came to be.
Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt
Jenny Saville reveals the process behind her new self-portrait, painted in response to Rembrandt’s masterpiece Self-Portrait with Two Circles.
Gagosian Quarterly Talks
Giuseppe Penone and Carlos Basualdo
Giuseppe Penone discusses his new monograph, The Inner Life of Forms, with the book’s editor Carlos Basualdo, senior curator of contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, at the Greene Space, New York. Hosted by art critic Deborah Solomon.
Gagosian Quarterly Winter 2018
The Winter 2018 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available. Our cover this issue comes from High Times, a new body of work by Richard Prince.
Behind the Art
Ideas of Stone
In the small skiing village of Gstaad, among the towering mountains of the Swiss Alps, lies a surprising and ambitious exhibition of sculpture by Giuseppe Penone. Susan Ellicott tells the story of how this installation came to be.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2018
The Spring 2018 Gagosian Quarterly with a cover by Ed Ruscha is now available for order.
The Inner Life of Forms
Giuseppe Penone speaks with Carlos Basualdo and Pepi Marchetti Franchi about his upcoming monograph.
March 25–September 12, 2021
Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy
Giuseppe Penone’s Abete (Fir) is installed in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy, to celebrate Dantedì, the day dedicated to the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri, and the 700th anniversary of his death. The trunk and branches are made of cast stainless steel, encircled by a lattice with eighteen cast bronze elements. At just over 72 feet high, Penone’s sculpture is the largest ever installed in a public space in Florence and anticipates an upcoming exhibition of his work at the Gallerie degli Uffizi entitled Alberi In-versi (In-verse Trees), opening July 6.
Giuseppe Penone, Abete (Fir), 2013, installation view, Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy © Giuseppe Penone/2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
FIAC Online 2021
March 2–12, 2021
Gagosian is pleased to present Printemps oublié for the first online edition of FIAC. This curated presentation reflects the dual character of springtime as a reminder of past trials and the harbinger of a vibrant new season to come.
All the artworks will appear on the Gagosian website and a rotating selection will appear in the inaugural FIAC Online Viewing Rooms, from March 4 to 7.
Jeff Koons, Bluebird Planter, 2010–16 © Jeff Koons
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Tuesday, January 26, 2021, 1pm EST
Join Gagosian for a conversation between Giuseppe Penone and Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries, London. The pair will discuss the artist’s practice, which is deeply engaged with nature and time, as well as his outdoor installation in San Francisco. Two large-scale bronze sculptures cast from trees—La logica del vegetale (The Logic of the Vegetal) (2012) and Idee di pietra (Ideas of Stone) (2004)—are dramatically installed in Fort Mason’s Great Meadow, overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, through March 28, 2021.
Giuseppe Penone, Idee di pietra (Ideas of Stone), 2004, installation view, Fort Mason, San Francisco, 2019–2021 © Giuseppe Penone/2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Matthew Millman
Closing this Week
Sève et pensée
Through January 23, 2022
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris
Sève et pensée (Sap and Thought), an exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s François-Mitterand location, centers on Giuseppe Penone’s spectacular installation Pensieri e linfa (Sap and Thought) (2021), produced especially for the site, which features a frottage rubbing of a 30-meter-long acacia tree trunk on a length of canvas. Handwritten text by the artist runs along both sides of the imprint. Also included are previously unseen works, drawings, photographs, and books, as well as a series of eighteen recent prints that Penone has gifted to the library.
Installation view, Giuseppe Penone: Sève et pensée, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, October 12, 2021–January 23, 2022. Artwork © ADAGP, Paris, 2021. Photo: Archivio Penone
Art Club #34
Through February 27, 2022
Villa Medici–Académie de France à Rome
As part of its Art Club exhibition series curated by Pier Paolo Pancotto, nine works by Giuseppe Penone are on view at Villa Medici in Rome, including five sculptures in terra-cotta and bronze and a video. In the exhibition, conceived for the private rooms of Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici, Penone aims to highlight the singularity of these intimate spaces by presenting emblematic works that question the material and the concept of sculpture.
Giuseppe Penone, Vaso, 1986, installation view, Villa Medici–Académie de France à Rome © Giuseppe Penone/2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: © Daniele Molajoli/AFR–Villa Medici
July 6–October 3, 2021
Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy
This exhibition of Giuseppe Penone’s work, whose title translates to In-verse Trees, includes over thirty drawings, photographs, sculptures, and installations. Presented as part of a yearlong celebration honoring the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri, on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of his death, the exhibition is inspired by the plant symbolism in “Paradiso,” the third and final part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Earlier in the year Penone’s monumental sculpture Abete (Fir) (2013) was installed in the Piazza della Signoria in anticipation of this exhibition.
Installation view, Giuseppe Penone: Alberi In-Versi, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy, July 6–October 3, 2021. Artwork © Giuseppe Penone/2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: courtesy Gallerie degli Uffizi
June 26–September 26, 2021
Galleria d’Arte Moderna “Giovanni Carandente,” Palazzo Collicola, Spoleto, Italy
This exhibition, whose title translates to Drawings, is the first show in Italy dedicated to Giuseppe Penone’s use of the medium. Outlining the conceptual landscape that forms his practice, the exhibition includes drawings from many different series, sketches for sculptures, and photographs of woods, ponds, and branches taken by Penone in 1976.
Installation view, Giuseppe Penone: Disegni, Galleria d’Arte Moderna “Giovanni Carandente,” Palazzo Collicola, Spoleto, Italy, June 26–September 26, 2021. Artwork © Giuseppe Penone/2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Stefano Bonilli