Giuseppe Penone: Being the River, Repeating the Forest

Nasher Sculpture Center
Nov 11, 2015 7:47PM

"In the month of May 1969, I entered the forest of wood

and began walking at a slow tempo, reflective and surprised,

attentive to every small form enclosed within the fluid wood.

It was then that this cathedral rose up from the silent world of matter,

to enter into the world of sculpture and the poetic use of reality."

Giuseppe Penone, 1991


Italian artist Giuseppe Penone is a child of the woods. Growing up in Garessio, a village in the Ligurian Alps just south of Turin, forged in him a deep connection with and understanding of nature, as well as a poetic sensibility. It was only natural then that some of his first works of art were made in, and in concert with, the maritime alps around his childhood home. In 1968, one of these involved installing a metal cast of his hand on a narrow tree, and allowing the tree to incorporate the sculpture as it grew around it. Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto (It Will Continue to Grow Except at This Point) reflected a broader desire among artists in Italy and elsewhere at the time to use commonplace materials in an effort to remove art from the strictures of the gallery and the commercial art market, a tendency in Italy that art historian and critic Germano Celant would eventually dub Arte Povera. But the work also points to Penone’s deep and abiding interest in the connection between man and nature, and the relationship between the work of the sculptor and natural patterns of growth.

Penone has played an integral role in the development of art over the past five decades. From his conceptual and performative works of the 1960s and 70s to the large-scale sculptural installations of the past ten years, Penone has explored intimate, sensate, and metaphysical connections with nature. Working in a stunning variety of materials—including clay, wood, stone, metal, plaster, resin, acacia thorns—the artist makes palpable and present the analogous processes of nature and art: carving large trees along their growth patterns to reveal the sapling contained within; growing potatoes to take the forms of parts of his face; rendering the swirling mists of his breath in the cold in tactile clay forms that contain the impression of his body. Giuseppe Penone: Being the River, Repeating the Forest is the first U.S. museum exhibition of the artist’s work in over thirty years and will feature a selection of work in a variety of materials highlighting the development of Penone’s ideas over the course of his career.

The exhibition will feature twenty-four works from Penone’s long career, including a restaging of the aforementioned Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto (It Will Continue to Grow Except at This Point) (1968); Soffio di foglie (Breath of Leaves) (1979), wherein Penone uses his body and breath to impress and carve his form into a massive pile of leaves, and Spazio di luce (Space of Light) (2008), a 65-foot long hollow bronze cast of a tree with shimmering gold leaf on the tree’s bark in the interior and traces of the artist’s hands making the mould on the exterior of the sculpture.

The title of the exhibition comes from two series of works by Penone: Essere Fiume (Being the River), which documents the artist’s attempt to carve by hand a rock found at the source of a river to replicate a rock found at the mouth of the river carved by the ceaseless flow of the water; and Repeating the Forest, the series of squared wooden beams carved along their growth lines to reveal the sapling at the core, a project that Penone began in 1969 and continues to this day. The two series are emblematic of Penone’s wider body of work, connecting the creative forces of the artist with those of nature and underlining the intimate, complex connection between humans and the world we inhabit.

Nasher Sculpture Center