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Yorkshire Sculpture Park presents extensive new exhibition by eminent artist Giuseppe Penone

12 Dec 2017

Giuseppe Penone: A Tree in the Wood
Underground Gallery and open air
26 May 2018–28 April 2019

 
Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) presents an extensive new exhibition by Giuseppe Penone that recognises a partnership between one of the most eminent artists working today and one of the world’s foremost sculpture parks, marking the culmination of a dialogue that has evolved since the artist’s first visit to YSP in 1989. Works drawn from five decades of Penone’s career, from the late 1960s to the present day, trace his evolving and poetic investigation into the relationship between the human body, sculpture and the natural world. This idea plays out across many different materials, scales and forms, from the iconic early Alpi marittime (1968) photographs to recent, towering open-air tree sculptures, displayed in the light-filled spaces of the Underground Gallery and across the historic landscape. Many of these works, including the 13-metre high Vene di pietra tra i rami (2015), have not previously been seen in the UK.
 
Penone was born in the Piedmontese village of Garessio in 1947, and says of his early artistic development, “not having culture, not being knowledgeable about art, the only reality and identity I had was that of the place where I’d been born, with its local reality”. He began to make experimental work using natural materials that were familiar and freely available in the forest around his home in the late 1960s. This non-traditional approach to making art led to him becoming an integral part of the important Italian Arte Povera movement that challenged established value systems in the art world and used materials from everyday life. Important early pieces defined his ongoing enquiry, where he explored the primacy of touch, gesture and an intense affinity with wood, stone, and water: a shared homogeneity with the earth’s material and lifeblood. His works continue to be physical manifestations of lived and breathed experiences, embedded in a deep understanding of the tangible and symbolic properties of the materials he uses and their interconnectedness with his own body.
 
Exploring universal themes including touch, time, growth and memory, Penone demonstrates an intuitive understanding and a mastery of materials from clay, graphite marble and bronze, to accumulations of thousands of laurel leaves and acacia thorns.
Trees have always held a central position in Penone’s work and he describes them as “not a subject but much more, they are the substance itself of my work”. He draws many correspondences between trees and the human body, often likening bark to skin, and the flow of sap to blood running through our veins. Emphasising their importance, Matrice (2015) occupies the heart of the gallery and is a vital presence pushing through the space like a spine, spanning almost the entire length and uniting all three spaces for the first time. This remarkable sculpture is an entire bisected pine tree, placed horizontally with its narrowest ends facing one another. With a new and altered sense of gravity, branches that once reached for the sky now root the tree to the ground. The body of the tree has been hollowed out and carefully carved to follow one of its growth rings, thereby capturing a particular moment in its life and reflecting Penone’s interest in transience, the flow of time and life cycles.
 
In another space, Propagazione (2018) is a delicate ink drawing made by hand directly onto the wall and spanning over 16 metres. Emanating from the artist’s fingerprint in the centre, the whorls join up to recall a cross section through a tree trunk. This work also speaks of the potential of simplicity: within a single fingerprint lies our identity, our individuality, and this small mark becomes a microcosm of the whole body and the universe beyond.
 
Several works in marble illustrate Penone’s fascination with skin, an often-explored idea in his work as the interface between the body and the surrounding environment where a sense of revelation, both physical and spiritual, is paramount. Two works from the Corpo di pietra or ‘body of stone’ series involve the artist following the natural veining of the marble, carving away the surrounding areas so the veins stand out in shallow relief as they do on the skin’s surface. A occhi chiusi (2009) is a triptych made up of a central marble panel flanked by two canvases covered with acacia thorns which create an image of the artist’s closed eyelids.
 
Penone’s exploration of eyes and eyelids is extended through the iconic series Rovesciare i propri occhi (1970) in which mirrored contact lenses reflect his surroundings, intimately linking his body and its senses with the environment beyond. Further works, relating to fingertips, touch and gesture, examine the tactile experience of the world around us.
 
In the open air, impactful large-scale sculptures are sited to resonate with the more formal areas of the historic landscape, the tallest of which, L’ombra del bronzo (2002) is an imposing 16 metres high. Overlooking the gardens, Albero folgorato (2012), a beautiful bronze cast of a lightning-struck tree, has its exposed interior lined with gold leaf that catches the sunlight. Other sculptures using trees and investigating ideas such as gravity, weight and tension are read in the context of an array of specimen trees and the rolling Yorkshire landscape beyond.
 
The exhibition extends into the furthest reaches of the Park with Idee di pietra – Olmo (2008), a cast tree cradling a river boulder, shown in the secluded woodland around Upper Lake. Within a small clearing, the canopies of surrounding trees create a natural, architectural space and the sculpture establishes a dialogue with them. Like all the works in this exhibition, art coexists with nature, each encouraging us to think more carefully about the other.
 
In the final room of the Underground Gallery, films, books and resource materials help visitors of all ages explore Penone’s work, and to see the world through the artist’s eyes. A full-colour catalogue with in-situ photos of the exhibition plus essays by Martin Gayford and YSP Director of Programme Clare Lilley documents this major project and share insights into Penone’s unique way of viewing the world.
 
Notes to Editors
 
About the artist

Giuseppe Penone was born in 1947 in the small town of Garessio, in Piedmont region, Italy. He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arte in Turin where he continues to live and work. In 2014 Penone was awarded with the prestigious Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award for Sculpture. In 2007 he represented Italy at the 52nd Venice Biennale.
 
Penone’s work can be found in public collections across the world including Centre Pompidou, Paris; Collection Ville de Rotterdam; Dallas Museum of Art; MoMA, New York; Museé des Beaux-Arts, Montreal; the Judith Rothschild Foundation, Pennsylvania among many others.
 
Selected exhibitions include Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2016); Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto (2016); Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2015); Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne (2015); Beirut Art Center (2014); Musée de Grenoble (2014); Kunstmuseum Winterthur (2013); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2013); Château de Versailles (2013); Madison Square Park, New York (2013); Giardino di Boboli, Forte di Belvedere, Firenze (2014); La Venaria Reale, near Turin (2015).

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Giuseppe Penone Press Release

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Giuseppe Penone, Luce e ombra, 2014. Private Collection. Courtesy the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Giuseppe Penone, Matrice, 2015. Private Collection. Courtesy the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Giuseppe Penone, Idee di pietra - Olmo, 2008. Private Collection. Courtesy the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Giuseppe Penone, Corpo di pietra – rami, 2016. Private Collection. Courtesy the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Giuseppe Penone, Trattenere 6, 8, 12 anni di crescita (detail), 2004-16. Courtesy the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, London, and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Giuseppe Penone, Albero folgorato, 2012. Private Collection. Courtesy the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Giuseppe Penone, L’ombra del bronzo, 2002. Private Collection. Courtesy the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Giuseppe Penone, Respirare l’ombra, 2008. Courtesy the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, London, and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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