Enrico Castellani is regarded as one of Italy’s most important living artists. Born in Castelmassa in 1930, he studied art and architecture at Belgium’s Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts and École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, respectively, in the early 1950s and soon began a practice challenging the confines of painting, sculpture, and architecture in search of a new paradigm. A catalytic figure in the European post-war avant-garde, he founded the Azimut gallery—and the related journal Azimuth—in Milan in 1959, with Piero Manzoni. They organised international exhibitions and published essays that opposed the dominant art movements in Europe at the time, and promoted the idea of an art that did not imitate but instead sprang self-referentially from its own techniques and materials. In 1959 Castellani also showed his now celebrated Superficie nera pieces for the first time. To make them, he worked his monochrome canvases with a nail gun to produce a relief-life surface that induced light and shade effects through alternating depressions and raised areas. In the 1970s and 1980s, he expanded his approach to include other materials; but Castellani’s focus upon a poetic marriage of painting, sculpture, architecture, and space has never wavered.
Castellani has exhibited at prestigious museums around the world, including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich. He represented Italy at the Venice Biennale in 1964, 1966, 1984, and 2010 (with solo exhibitions in 1966 and 1984 and as part of group exhibitions in 1964 and 2010). In the latter year he became the first Italian artist ever to receive the Praemium Imperiale for Painting, awarded by the Emperor of Japan. His works are included in numerous public collections including the Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf; Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki; Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Fondazione Prada, Milan; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma (MACRO), Rome; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart; Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GAM), Turin; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.