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 (Vegital 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.
Photo: Manuel Lagos Cid/Paris Match Archive/Getty Images
January 30–March 23, 2018
Idee di Pietra
December 13, 2017–March 30, 2018
Extended through June 15, 2017
January 27–June 15, 2017
Leaves of Stone / Foglie di Pietra
January 21–March 12, 2016
Spazio di luce
May 2–June 6, 2015
Ramificazioni del Pensiero | Branches of Thought
September 5–October 18, 2014
April 11–May 31, 2014
Britannia Street, London
Intersecting Gaze / Sguardo Incrociato
October 9–November 24, 2012
Davies Street, London
From the Quarterly
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.
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.
Fairs, Events & Announcements
Friday, November 9, 2018, 6pm
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Giuseppe Penone will discuss his life’s work and celebrate the publication of 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. The event is free with museum admission. Space is limited and will be granted on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Giuseppe Penone, Rovesciare i propri occhi (Reversing One’s Eyes), 1970 © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Paolo Mussat Sartor
The Inner Life of Forms
Saturday, November 10, 2018, 2:30pm
Gagosian Shop, New York
Giuseppe Penone will sign copies of his newly released monograph, The Inner Life of Forms, published by Gagosian, which examines the artist’s more-than-forty-year career. To attend this free event, RSVP to email@example.com.
Saturday, November 10, 2018, 5:30pm
The Greene Space, New York
Giuseppe Penone will discuss 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. Following a reception at 5:30pm, the talk—hosted by art critic Deborah Solomon—will begin promptly at 6:30pm. To attend this free event, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Giuseppe Penone working on Cedro di Versailles (Ceder of Versailles) (2000–03) in Turin, 2000. Artwork © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: © Archivio Penone
A Creative Revolution
May 17–August 16, 2018
State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Arte Povera emerged in the second half of the 1960s with a generation of Italian artists who challenged traditional painting and sculpture by embracing simple materials and techniques. The exhibition includes works by prominent members of the movement, as well as art that proceeded Arte Povera. Work by Lucio Fontana and Giuseppe Penone is included.
Giuseppe Penone, Respirare l’ombra (To Breath the Shadow), 1999 (detail), Fondazione per l’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea CRT © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Installation view at Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Torino. Photo: Paolo Pellion
Des corps de pierre
September 9–November 26, 2017
Château La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, France
A selection of works by Giuseppe Penone have been installed in the newly constructed art pavilion at Château La Coste, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. Large-scale bronze and marble works and works on paper are presented both inside and outside the gallery to create a dialogue between art, architecture, and nature.
Installation view, Giuseppe Penone: Des corps de pierre, Château La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, France, September 9–November 26, 2017
January 27–July 30, 2017
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome
Curated by Massimiliano Gioni, this unique display of works by Giuseppe Penone is on view in Rome’s grand Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. The exhibition is Fendi’s first public presentation of contemporary art at the venue.
Photo by Matteo Piazza