Giuseppe Penone at Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome

“Poetry synthesizes a lot of related elements in a few words. An artwork does the same. It is synthetic thinking that is inside an artwork. And if it is a good work, the simplicity of these synthetic elements offers people the possibility to extend their imagination, and for objects to take on a meaning that is perhaps a little different from what the artist was thinking.” – Giuseppe Penone

The exhibition Matrice takes its name from Giuseppe Penone’s most spectacular work, a 30-meter-long sculpture in which the trunk of a fir-tree has been carved out following one of its growth rings, thus bringing to the surface the past of the tree and its transformations in time. A bronze mold has been cast in the wood, apparently freezing nature’s flow of life. Like many of Penone’s artworks, Matrice (2015) reveals the artist’s interest in the relationship between time and nature and, metaphorically, between nature, humankind and transience.

Palazzo Della Civiltà Italiana, Fendi’s headquarters in Rome, is hosting in his monumental spaces a precious exhibition by Giuseppe Penone curated by Massimiliano Gioni. Matrice makes it possible “to admire a selection of historical works and new productions realized specifically for this exhibition.”. Starting from Soffio di foglie (1979), an impression of the artist’s body on a stack of myrtle leaves, and ending with Matrice, the exhibition features fifteen artworks that date from the 1970s to the present.

In the last room, for example, that loop closes, showing the last monumental work Matrice compared with one of the earliest Giuseppe Penone’s self-portrait. Rovesciare i propri occhi (1970) transforms the artist into an enigmatic figure and a visionary prophet who sees nothing and everything. These two works are deeply connected, and in the words of the curator: “Archeology and ruins, history and culture are featured as a kind of ‘second nature’”, and this synthesis evokes “romantic memories and a nostalgia for long-lost ancient civilizations”.

Penone embodies Nature, questioning the meaning of mimesis. In Foglie di pietra (2013) natural elements are transposed into bronze, in Essere Fiume (2010) the artist has meticulously replicated the shape of a river stone in a craved marble block, and again in Ripete il bosco (1969-2016), where a number of trunks excavated from wooden blocks recreate a small forest.

Leonardo Caldana

Matrice by Giuseppe Penone
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome
Through July 13