“I think one of Penone’s most valuable teachings is that of perceiving time, not in its immediacy and urgency, but rather according to an almost geological rhythm,” says curator Massimiliano Gioni, who Fendi tapped to oversee the public commission and organize the show of Penone’s work, titled “Matrice,” at Fendi’s new global headquarters in the restored fascist-era Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, on view through July 16th. (There’s also a concurrent Penone show taking place at Gagosian Rome.)
“If you look at his sculptures of trees, they are all attempts at retracing the slow passing of time in the wood and in the forms of the tree,” says Gioni.
Penone, who comes from the Piedmont region of Italy, first made a name for himself in the late ’60s with radical, poetic gestures involving nature, like leaving his bodily imprint in a pile of leaves (a work that’s recreated in the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana exhibition). And while his sculptural work now tends toward heavier, solid materials that necessitate a muscular process, like carving out the core of a massive tree, this brawn is always balanced by a sense of fragility that resonates in the context of Roman ruins.
But it’s also Penone’s ability to summon the classical beauty of Rome’s past that makes him a fitting candidate to make his mark on the historic city.
“There was something almost religious, messianic, or Franciscan in the stripped-down beauty of early Penone’s work,” says Gioni. “And yet, as he kept working for decades and started experimenting with other materials, he attained a peculiar balance between radicalism and classicism. Now you just need to look at his work to see an engagement with a whole sculptural tradition that reaches back all the way to the Baroque and further.”