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.
Photo: Manuel Lagos Cid/Paris Match Archive/Getty Images
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
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2022
The Fall 2022 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Jordan Wolfson’s House with Face (2017) on its cover.
Giuseppe Penone À La Tourette
Le Couvent Sainte-Marie de La Tourette, in Éveux, France, is both an active Dominican priory and the last building designed by Le Corbusier. As a result, the priory, completed in 1961, is a center both religious and architectural, a site of spiritual significance and a magnetic draw for artists, writers, architects, and others. This fall, at the invitation of Frère Marc Chauveau, Giuseppe Penone will be exhibiting a selection of existing sculptures at La Tourette alongside new work directly inspired by the context and materials of the building. Here, Penone and Frère Chauveau discuss the power and peculiarities of the space, as well as the artwork that will be exhibited there.
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.
Fairs, Events & Announcements
March 29–May 20, 2023
Gagosian Shop, London
Giuseppe Penone is taking over the Gagosian Shop in London’s historic Burlington Arcade with Somersault. Posters, books, and catalogues, including historical items, are presented alongside selected works on paper by the artist to coincide with his exhibition at Galleria Borghese, Rome, on view through May 28, 2023.
In a diverse body of sculpture, performance, photography, and works on paper spanning more than fifty years, Penone, a practitioner of Arte Povera, explores growth, respiration, and other involuntary natural processes, drawing attention to the relationship between man and nature. The works on view in the Shop include Somersault (2020), a suite of twenty-one drypoint etchings; the print Identity (2018); and the iconic photograph Rovesciare i propri occhi (Reversing One’s Eyes) (1970), in which Penone was photographed wearing custom-made mirrored contact lenses.
Highlights of the presentation also include two rare 1970s exhibition posters and numerous catalogues and monographs on the artist, including The Inner Life of Forms, published by Gagosian in 2018, and Le Bois Sacré du Couvent de la Tourette (2022), an artist’s book inspired by the recent installation at the monastery designed by Le Corbusier in Éveux, France.
Giuseppe Penone, Rovesciare i propri occhi (Reversing One’s Eyes), 1970 © Giuseppe Penone
January 12–15, 2023, booth BF05
Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Singapore
Gagosian is pleased to announce the gallery’s participation in the inaugural edition of ART SG, with a selection of works by international contemporary artists including Banksy, Georg Baselitz, Ashley Bickerton, Edmund de Waal, Helen Frankenthaler, Katharina Grosse, Mark Grotjahn, Damien Hirst, Howard Hodgkin, Thomas Houseago, Tetsuya Ishida, Alex Israel, Jia Aili, Harmony Korine, Takashi Murakami, Nam June Paik, Giuseppe Penone, Ed Ruscha, Spencer Sweeney, Sarah Sze, Tatiana Trouvé, Anna Weyant, Jonas Wood, and Zeng Fanzhi.
Gagosian’s booth at ART SG 2023. Artwork, left to right: © Ashley Bickerton; © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2022; © Banksy; © Zeng Fanzhi; © 2020 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano
Albero di 3 metri
In conjunction with Paris+ par Art Basel, Giuseppe Penone’s sculpture Albero di 3 metri (1995) has been installed in a vitrine viewable from outside Gagosian, rue de Ponthieu, Paris.
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. Over time, the Alberi series attests to Penone’s steady refinement of technique and experimentation with different sizes and installations. Albero di 3 metri, carved from a larch tree, captures the formal subtlety of Penone’s artistic practice while reminding viewers of the majesty and modesty of natural and cultural materials.
Giuseppe Penone, Albero di 3 metri, 1995, installation view, Gagosian, rue de Ponthieu, Paris. Artwork © Giuseppe Penone/2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Thomas Lannes
Through July 9, 2023
Galleria Borghese, Rome
Curated by Francesco Stocchi, this exhibition, whose title translates to Universal Gestures, features more than thirty works created by Giuseppe Penone between the 1970s and the early 2000s. Installed in both the ground-floor rooms and gardens of the Galleria Borghese, the sculptures highlight a symbiosis between built and natural forms, underlining the fluidity that unites all plant, human, and mineral elements. The exhibition proposes a new reading of the relationship between landscape and sculpture embodied in the museum’s collection of work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680).
Installation view, Giuseppe Penone: Gesti universali, Galleria Borghese, Rome, March 14–May 28, 2023. Artwork © Giuseppe Penone. Photo: S. Pellion, courtesy Galleria Borghese
Giuseppe Penone in
Saint Francis of Assisi
Through July 30, 2023
National Gallery, London
Through art from the thirteenth century to the present day, this exhibition examines why Saint Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) remains a figure of enormous relevance to our time. From early medieval panels, relics, and manuscripts to contemporary films, paintings, sculpture, and a Marvel comic, the exhibition shines a light on how the saint has captured the imagination of artists throughout the centuries, and how his appeal has transcended generations, continents, and different religious traditions. Work by Giuseppe Penone is included.
Giuseppe Penone, Albero porta – cedro (Door Tree – Cedar), 2012 © Giuseppe Penone. Photo: Josh White
De la nature
October 22, 2022–March 19, 2023
Musée de Grenoble, France
This exhibition, whose title translates to Of Nature, explores the work of four artists whose practices examine one of the major subjects of the twenty-first century: the relationship between humans and nature. Ecological awareness on a planetary scale is in the process of upsetting systems of thought in economics, politics, and culture. Work by Cristina Iglesias and Giuseppe Penone is included.
Cristina Iglesias, Cave Study (x), 2022 (detail) © Cristina Iglesias. Photo: José Luis López de Zubiria, courtesy Cristina Iglesias Studio
October 19, 2022–March 6, 2023
Centre Pompidou, Paris
In 2020, Giuseppe Penone made a substantial donation to the Centre Pompidou in Paris: 328 drawings covering fifty years of creation, from 1967 to 2019. This exhibition presents 241 drawings from his gift, displayed thematically rather than in chronological order, to convey the importance of serial work. Six sculptures are shown alongside the drawings, showcasing all of Penone’s favorite materials: wood, clay, stone, leaves, and bronze.
Giuseppe Penone, 2450 grammi (2450 Grams), 1994 © Giuseppe Penone/2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Archivio Penone