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 30, 2019
Foglie di bronzo / Leaves of Bronze
September 12–November 30, 2019
Ramificazioni del pensiero / Branches of Thought
September 5–October 18, 2014
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
A yearlong 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.
Giuseppe Penone: Ephemeris
In Giuseppe Penone: ephemeris we get a glimpse of his process as he explores some of the ideas behind Equivalenze.
Michael Craig-Martin, Man Ray, Giuseppe Penone
Thursday, July 30, 2020, 12pm edt
Join Gagosian for a trio of online presentations to learn about the ways Michael Craig-Martin, Man Ray, and Giuseppe Penone approach three-dimensional form and its potential to change the way we engage with the world. Craig-Martin will speak about his own practice, while Max Teicher and Pepi Marchetti Franchi will each discuss the works of Man Ray and Penone respectively. To join, register at zoom.us.
Installation view, Michael Craig-Martin: Sculpture, Gagosian, Britannia Street, London, May 31–August 23, 2019. Artwork © Michael Craig-Martin. Photo: Mike Bruce
The Inner Life of Forms
An excerpt of Giuseppe Penone: The Inner Life of Forms is available for online reading from July 1 through July 30 as part of the From the Library series. The selected essay, Sculpting Time by archaeologist and art historian Salvatore Settis, draws Penone’s work into dialogue with classical and preclassical history. The full monograph, edited by Carlos Basualdo of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is the most comprehensive survey of the artist’s oeuvre to date. The book consists of two components: a three-part, in-depth dialogue between Basualdo and Penone and essays by Emily Braun, Tim Ingold, Rémi Labrusse, and Settis; and twelve individual booklets containing eleven new texts by longtime Penone scholar and collaborator Daniela Lancioni that explore the core themes and interests embodied in the artist’s work.
Giuseppe Penone: The Inner Life of Forms (New York: Gagosian, 2018)
Philadelphia Museum of Art and Centre Pompidou
Giuseppe Penone has given the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Centre Pompidou in Paris major gifts of works on paper. Each institution received more than three hundred pieces spanning five decades of the artist’s career, beginning in the late 1960s. The work reflects the artist’s wide range of influences and the connections he draws between humans and nature in exploring the involuntary processes of breathing, growth, and aging through materials such as stones, branches, and leaves. Both institutions plan to have exhibitions by Penone in 2022.
Giuseppe Penone, Attorno alla scultura, attorno allo scultore (Around the Sculpture, Around the Sculptor), 1984, Centre Pompidou, Paris © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: © Archivio Penone
La rivoluzione siamo noi
Collezionismo italiano contemporaneo
Through January 10, 2021
XNL Piacenza Contemporanea, Italy
XNL Piacenza Contemporanea, a new cultural center dedicated to contemporary art, presents its inaugural exhibition, whose title translates to We Are the Revolution: Contemporary Italian Collecting. The show features more than 150 works from eighteen of the most important art collections in Italy. Giuseppe Penone is creating a site-specific piece for the exhibition, and work by Urs Fischer, Ellen Gallagher, Piero Manzoni, and Andy Warhol is also included.
Giuseppe Penone, Propagazione (Propagation), 2020 © Giuseppe Penone/2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Mauro Del Papa
Among the Trees
Through October 31, 2020
Hayward Gallery, London
This exhibition brings together artworks that explore our relationships with trees and forests. Beginning with pioneering works from the late 1960s, Among the Trees surveys an expansive artistic terrain, including sculpture, painting, installation, video, and photography. The show invites viewers to consider trees as symbols and as living organisms that have helped to shape human civilization. Work by Sally Mann, Giuseppe Penone, and Jeff Wall is included.
Sally Mann, Untitled (Scarred Tree), 1998 © Sally Mann
Dessins, Gravures, et Sculptures
Through November 1, 2020
Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, France
This exhibition, whose title translates to Drawings, Etchings, and Sculptures, consists of two large sculptures, thirty original drawings, and seven engravings by Giuseppe Penone.
Giuseppe Penone, Una pelle di foglie, 1999 © Giuseppe Penone
Through January 11, 2021
Centre Pompidou-Metz, France
To celebrate its tenth anniversary, Centre Pompidou-Metz has invited Giuseppe Penone to install a new original work: a 49-foot-tall cast-bronze sculpture of a walnut tree (whose title translates to Indistinct Boundaries), with some sections and branches made of white marble.
Giuseppe Penone, Indistinti confini—Noce, 2017, installation view, Centre Pompidou-Metz, France © Giuseppe Penone/2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Jacqueline Trichard/Centre Pompidou Metz