Wednesday, 10 October 2012

London’s Whitechapel Gallery: Giuseppe Penone and Maurizio Cattelan Exhibitions

2nd October 2012

At one of my local visually impaired groups we had a speaker from the Whitechapel Gallery.  I had not been to this gallery since I lost my sight, but remember visiting the area in the 1970s and 1980s. 

The gallery itself has been a showcase of culture reflecting the many changes in the population.  With the closing of a library, the Whitechapel Gallery took over the premises and was completely remodelled and fitted into exhibition spaces for large works, smaller installations and an archive of the gallery itself.

Sarah Barrett had presented the gallery to our local group and I made a mental note of dropping in.  Some of our members remember workshops in the past and another has attended audio descriptions arranged for the visually impaired community.  It had been suggested that the Whitechapel Gallery could make an audio CD with items of interest.  Sarah has done this.

My visit was done totally on a whim and on arrival at the nearest London Underground station (Aldgate East), I was given directions at the exit by the staff, who know where it is (next door- if you take the correct exit)

I was greeted on arrival and though I asked for Sarah by name the staff I spoke to were very much aware of the visually impaired community.  I met Sarah who gave me an audio CD with the October to December programme and we made a tour of the building with the permanent collection, long term exhibition and smaller scale shows.  The gallery was mid show and news of their programme can be found on

Giuseppe Penone:

The following text has been written by me with the inclusion of some of the press release technical details of the bronze sculpture of Penone.  Sarah and Daisy Malabar sent me those details with a selection of images from which I have chosen two of the bronze tree.   

Spazio di Luce
(Space of Light) (2012)
Credit for both images:
The Bloomberg Commission: Giuseppe Penone
Whitechapel Gallery
Installation View
Photo: David Parry / PA Wire

I found the work fascinating in that I could touch it, put my head in it and make a sound.  Visitors are encouraged to touch the object and with yet another bronze object under my belt I was beginning to understand the process after the Royal Academy’s Bronze show with the information on the Lost Wax casting process. 

Information from the Whitechapel Gallery:

“Over the past 45 years, Italian artist Giuseppe Penone has examined the relationship to nature. For the latest Bloomberg Commission, the Whitechapel Gallery has a twelve metre bronze cast of a tree, with a radiant gold-leaf interior, which spreads across the columned gallery. 

The tree is carefully balanced on its branches and divided into sections to allow
visitors to move between the separate elements. The work contrasts with the
urban environment surrounding the Gallery, highlighting hidden nature within the
city. It also references the Whitechapel Gallery’s Arts and Crafts architecture
which features the Tree of Life motif on its façade. The installation is accompanied
by a year-long programme of talks and events exploring the rich relationship
between nature and the city.

Giuseppe Penone (b.1947) became the youngest artist to be admitted to the
legendary Arte Povera group, an Italian movement coined by curator Germano
Celant in 1967.” 

(My visit to the Boetti exhibition can be found on
Boetti refused to join the Arté Povera group and set up another grouping)

“Inspired by the radical politics of the late 1960s, these artists
challenged the conventions of sculpture, often using everyday materials.  

This new site-specific work for The Bloomberg Commission, Spazio di Luce
(Space of Light) (2012), is made using the ancient technique of Lost Wax
casting and the interior and exterior of the tree are deliberately reversed.
Reflecting Penone’s interest in how we relate to the natural world by touch,
the bronze exterior registers thousands of finger prints left by the foundry
workers who covered the original tree in wax as part of the casting process.
The inside of the sculpture is layered in gold leaf, creating a glowing contrast
to the dark patina which assimilates the appearance of tree bark. A second
sculpture Essere Fiume (Being River) (1998) also is on display and I could touch this work consisting of an original stone shaped by the flow of a river in Tuscany and a
sculpture of the stone, hand carved by Penone to mimic the original.” 

After inspecting this and the bronze work, Sarah and I climbed the stairs where there is a display of Aspen magazines.  This includes works by Yoko Ono, Warhol and Lou Reed among others.  I mentioned to Sarah that I had been to the Dieter Roth Diaries on show at the Fruitmarket in Edinburgh. Sarah briefly described some of the items in the showcase.  We discussed Fluxus.  We moved into a changing space for selected works from private collections, in this case another Italian artist,  Maurizio Cattelan.

An introduction to this changing space is made below.  I was attracted by the rug on the exhibition floor.  It has the look of a packaging of cheese from Bel Paese.  I recognised the map of Italy (Boot shaped), kicking little Sicily into the sea.  The colours are vibrant and reminded me of Italian painter Severini, who painted a Quaker Oats packet (on show in Estorick Collection - )

Il Bel Paese
Credit for image:
Maurizio Cattelan
Il Bel Paese
Wool carpet
Diameter 320 cm
Courtesy Collezione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo
Another small installation involved a small squirrel and Sarah described it as it was too small for me to make out.  A large cubic metre bag of masonry rubble was on show and I could touch that.  Another Cattelan piece is a set of clothes in a body shape hanging from a rack and there is a play on Catttelan with a sign in neon which I could just about make out.  The letter t has been written 3 times in the shape of a cross.

The following is from a press release by the Whitechapel Gallery:

Collection  Sandretto Re Rebaudengo: Maurizio Cattelan
25 September – 2 December 2012
Gallery 7

Since the 1990s Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo has collected contemporary
art. One of the most important private collections in Europe, it includes leading
international artists such as Doug Aitken, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Thomas
Demand, Damien Hirst, Paul McCarthy, Reinhard Mucha, Sarah Lucas, Paola
Pivi, Anish Kapoor and Mike Kelley. A series of four displays at the Whitechapel
Gallery over one year will show highlights from the collection and draw on 
its themes.

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is often known as the art world’s joker, using
what seem to be stunts to address universal themes including  power, death
and authority.  His memorable sculptures  include Pope John Paul II struck
down by a meteorite, his staging an exhibition of a ‘back soon’ sign on the door
of an empty gallery or reporting a robbery of an ‘invisible exhibition’ to Italian
police. His work often blurs the line between art and reality to provoke reaction. 

The display offers an opportunity to experience some of Cattelan’s intimate earlier works.

Highlights include a sculptural installation featuring a stuffed squirrel which
has shot itself at the kitchen table, titled Bidibidobidiboo (1996).  Titled after
the fairy godmother’s song in Cindarella, it caricatures the idea of childhood
innocence. In another sculpture the emblem of the 1970s terrorist group
Brigate Rosse is turned into a neon Christmas greeting by Cattelan, while in Il
Bel Paese (1995) a cheese naming Italy as ‘a beautiful country’ becomes a rug
on which to walk. The idea of art potentially reforming society becomes the
butt of Cattelan’s joke, when he makes an effigy of himself dressed in iconic
artist Joseph Beuys trademark grey felt suit, hanging by the neck from a
clothes rack."


A very enjoyable visit with a lot to explore on both a drop-in basis or by arrangement.  I have included the notes from the gallery of the objects and would like to thank both Sarah and Daisy for encouraging visually impaired visitors to visit. 

A new show – Mel Bochner – has an audio description session on two dates.  These are of the same subject and more details can be found on the following links:

November audio description:

December audio description: