In the monumental architectural spaces of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Giuseppe Penone presents a series of artworks with matter and forms that are strikingly alive and organic.

Giuseppe Penone Matrice
The exhibition “Matrice” is a unique opportunity to admire a selection of historical works and new productions realized specifically for this exhibition by Giuseppe Penone
“Matrice” features fifteen artworks that date from the 1970s to the present, including many that are rarely seen and will be shown in Italy for the first time. The entire exhibition has been conceived in dialogue with the monumental architectural spaces of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. The exhibition presents a collection of artworks that contrast the clear-cut geometry and the marble facets of this building – which is directly inspired by Giorgio De Chirico’s metaphysical landscapes – with matter and forms that are strikingly alive and organic. The exhibition plays on the illusion of nature that mysteriously inhabits the spacious first-floor naves of the Palazzo and establishes a surprising dialogue between nature and culture and biological time and history.
View of the exhibition “Matrice” at the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome
View of the exhibition “Matrice” at the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome
The exhibition is named after one of Giuseppe Penone’s most spectacular works, Matrice (2015), a 30-meter-long sculpture in which the trunk of a fir-tree has been carved out following one of its growth rings, thus bringing to the surface the past of the tree and its transformations in time. A bronze mold has been cast in the wood, apparently freezing nature’s flow of life. Like many of Penone’s artworks, Matrice reveals the artist’s interest in the relationship between time and nature and, metaphorically, between nature, humankind and transience.

“Trees appear as solid beings, but if we observe them through time, in their growth they become a fluid, malleable matter. A tree is a being that memorizes its own shape and this shape is necessary to its life. Therefore, it is a perfect sculptural structure, because it carries the necessity of existence,” states Giuseppe Penone.

Another piece in the exhibition, Ripetere il bosco (Repeating the Forest, 1969–2016), one of Penone’s most renowned works, presents a number of trunks excavated from wooden blocks and arranged to resemble a small forest. Like a fairytale landscape, Ripetere il bosco recalls profound and ancient associations between magic and wilderness while also describing an increasingly tamed and artificial nature – a contrast that reveals Penone’s environmental concerns and anxieties that are more relevant now than ever.


The series Foglie di pietra (Leaves of Stone, 2013) – which will be shown in Italy for the first time – combines natural elements and marble blocks carved into capitals and columns, evoking ancient ruins and fragments of history regained by nature. The Foglie di pietra sculptures appear even more alluring in the setting of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome, as the spiraling trees and branches interlace with the weight and wealth of ancient history.

“In these works, archaeology and ruins, history and culture are featured as a kind of “second nature.” It is a deep synthesis between the flowing of natural and human time, where – for the first time in Penone’s work – a sense of longing and a romantic nostalgia for lost civilizations are brought to the surface,” affirms Massimiliano Gioni, curator of the exhibition.


Other works provide a counterpoint to these atmospheres, like the huge Spine d’acacia – Contatto (Acacia Thorns – Contact, 2006), which delineates on canvas the barely visible image of a person’s face drawn with hundreds of thorns. Delicate and aggressive at the same time, Spine d’acacia belongs to a celebrated series of Penone’s works in which the human body is described through traces of its absence, like fingerprints, footprints and impressions of the artist’s breath. In Soffio di foglie (Breath of Leaves, 1979) for instance, an impression of the artist’s body is visible in a stack of myrtle leaves. In Essere fiume (Being a River, 2010), a deceivingly simple sculpture that is philosophically complex, the artist meticulously reproduces the shape of a river-polished stone by carving a marble block. Through this maniacal exercise in simulation, which is also a wonderful allegory of sculpture, Penone carefully replicates the forces of nature, joining in the “cosmic communion” that the artist describes as one of the foundations of his work.

The exhibition also includes two sculptures installed outside the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. Penone’s Indistinti confini: Anio (Indistinct Boundaries: Anio, 2012) combines marble and bronze, noble materials which are set in conversation with the monumental spaces of the Palazzo. Abete (Fir Tree, 2013) is a new major sculpture: over 20 meters tall and presented for the very first time on the occasion of this exhibition, it represents a new phase in the research of Giuseppe Penone, who in recent years has consistently experimented with sculpture in urban spaces. After a series of public sculptures installed in different cities, including Frankfurt and Kassel in Germany, and following his celebrated exhibition in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, Penone is now intervening in the Roman landscape with the unexpected presence of Abete. Installed in front of Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Abete adds a new dimension, both more natural and alive, to the abstract geometric architecture of the EUR area.

until 16 July 2017
Giuseppe Penone Matrice
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana
Quadrato della Concordia 3, Rome
Curator: Massimiliano Gioni

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