Burri in his studio in Case Nove di Morra, Città di Castello

Alberto Burri

Italy 1915 - 1995

Abstract Art, Painting

Alberto Burri
Alberto Burri
September 12, 2016
Andreja Velimirović is a passionate content writer with a knack for art and old movies. Majoring in art history, he is an expert on avant-garde modern movements and medieval church fresco decorations. Feel free to contact him via his Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andreja-velimirovi%C4%87-74068a68/

Alberto Burri was an Italian artist who dedicated his entire career to wiping off the boundaries separating the mediums of sculpture and painting. This solitary artist explained his work as a search for elements that must function as a surface, material and idea[1]. Alberto produced his pieces by creating wounds, cuts and holes on different surfaces, making sure that his art is instantly recognizable to all. Besides the movements of Dadaism, Constructivism and Surrealism, Burri was also heavily influenced by the Italian concept of poly materialism – the ability of the single artwork to contain a variety of material effects.

Alberto Burri - Ferro SP (Iron SP) in Guggenheim , 1961 - Image via hyperallergiccom
Alberto Burri – Iron SP, 1961 – Image via hyperallergic.com

World War II

Alberto Burri was born in Città di Castello, Umbria, during the year of 1915. He was a son of a wine merchant and an elementary school teacher. Desiring to become a doctor from an early age, Burri eventually enrolled at and earned a medical degree from the University of Perugia, specializing in tropical medicine. However, his dreams of helping people took a sudden and unexpected turn as Italy entered WWII – Alberto was enlisted as a medic and sent to Libya to support the ground forces stationed there. Burri served his country for the next three years up until the 8th May 1943, when the Axis forces were defeated at El Alamein. Alberto’s unit was captured in Tunisia and he was subsequently stationed at the Camp Hereford prisoner of war camp in Hereford, Texas – it was here that Burri started to paint. With plenty of time to think about the wrongs of his fascistic beliefs, Alberto was transformed into a new man by the experience of being a prisoner of war in an American camp. Instead of letting himself be overcome by sorrow, Burri embarked on a lifelong creative journey. He used the extremely limited materials available to him, converting them into pieces of art underlined by a strong note of turmoil and violence. After the WWII came to an abrupt end, Italy’s social situation was bitter and the long years of fascist government took its toll on the nation. Additionally, the right-winged politics and wartime horrors imposed an excruciating cultural stagnation – as a reaction to such a situation, Italian artists started to utilize their work in order to examine both the past and the future of their country. Painters, poets and intellectuals united under one flag and wanted to re-establish Italy as a new art platform and the cultural center of Europe despite their recent involvement with the horrific WWII crimes. Upon his return to Italy, Burri resigned completely from medicine and decided to pursue a career in art.

Alberto Burri used to create his pieces by making cuts and holes on a surface, underlining his art with the note of violence he experienced during World War II

Guggenheim museum held a retrospective exhibition of Alberto in gallery
Alberto Burri – Red Plastic 1962 – Image via sothebys.com

The Art of Destruction

The very first paintings Burri created were depictions of desert views he was able to see from the prison camp, as well as still life compositions. As the famous American photographer and art critic Milton Gendel described in an ArtNews issue published in the year of 1954, Alberto primarily painted nostalgic Umbrian landscapes and figures upon his return. When he came back to Italy, Burri actually continued to use the old burlap[2] sacks he brought from the war prisoner camp – he would use them instead of the canvas, all in order to maintain the aforementioned strong note of violence and war within his art. The burlap was an excellent symbol as this was a cheap and durable material used for tents, supplies, sandbags and camouflage netting during the war. After his release in 1946, Burri moved to Rome and joined his cousin who was a musician. He provided Alberto with an opportunity to connect with the Roman elite art circles. Besides the war time which had its toll on his art, Burri was heavily influenced by Dada and Surrealism as these movements shaped many aspects of his approach to art. He would often travel to Paris in order to investigate how French locals of the past and present resolved the problem of the relief sculpture and painting. Russian Constructionists also played a massive role in shaping the Italian colleague’s aesthetics. As his career entered a mature status, Burri examined the uses of non-traditional materials such as wood, tar, plastic, PVC adhesives, cellotex and fabric. In the 1970s, he began his production of cracked paintings, also known as cretti. This only highlighted Alberto’s already familiar obsession with the materialism of his works – when one considers that fact, it comes as no surprise whatsoever that he chose to title his works on the name of the substance used to make the piece or the method used to create the desired effect. His techniques included cutting, tearing, melting and stitching the surface of the piece[3], often leaving it riddled with holes. In the later stages of his career, Burri started focusing on a new field of art making – the land art. His most famous project of this kind was placed in the small town of Gibellina in Sicily. Alberto covered an area of over 120,000 square meters, including the most of the old town which was ravaged by an earthquake. Burri called this the Grande Cretto. Alberto was very widely regarded as one of the most important artists emerging from his generation. Burri was awarded the Premio dell’Ariete in Milan, UNESCO Prize at the São Paulo Biennial, Venice Biennale’s Critics’ Prize and Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. Furthermore, his birthplace of Città di Castello memorialized Alberto with a large permanent museum of his works.

During his mature career, Burri added another artistic field to his work as he started experimenting with land art

Since Burri died in 1995, he was a topic of many canvas retrospective exhibition shows in gallery, both in Rome and Guggenheim museum
Alberto Burri – Land art in Gibellina Vecchia – Image via wikipedia.org

Artistic Importance

Burri’s influence to Italy’s modern art history is extremely significant. He did not only provide the country with the first creative breath of fresh air after the World War II ended[4] but Alberto also approached his work without denying his nation’s involvement in the most horrific series of events human kind ever witnessed. Furthermore, Burri channeled all the anger and violence of the World War II into his art, letting it guide all of his creative and visual decisions throughout his career. The wounds, cuts and holes of his pieces remain as one of the most iconic moments art history of the 20th century has to offer, both in Italy and the rest of Europe.


  1. Burri, A., Zorzi, S., Burri Inside Out: The One and Only Interview, Silvana Editoriale, 2016
  2. Smith, R., Alberto Burri, a Man of Steel, and Burlap., New York Times, 2015
  3. Melikan, S., The Painter Alberto Burri’s Mad Rush to Destruction, New York Times, 2013
  4. Oisteanu, V., Alberto Burri, The Brooklyn Rail, New York 2011

Featured image: Alberto Burri – Burri in his studio in Case Nove di Morra, Città di Castello – Image via collezionedatiffany.com
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearName of the exhibitionMuseum/GallerySolo/Group
2016Burri I Cretti Riso - Museo d’Arte Contemporanea della Sicilia, Palermosolo
2016Italia Pop. L’Arte Negli Anni Del BoomFondazione Magnani - Rocca, Parmagroup
2016Alberto Burri. Das Trauma der MalereiK21, Dusseldorfsolo
20163D - Skulpturen und ObjekteGalerie Georg Nothelfer, Berlingroup
2015Alberto Burri: The Trauma of PaintingSolomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, NYsolo
2015Alberto Burri - Grafica Luxembourg & Dayan London, Londonsolo
2014Alberto Burri - CellotexPinacoteca Comunale D'Arte Contemporanea Giovanni Da Gaeta, Gaeta, LTsolo
2013Alberto Burri - Black Cellotex Luxembourg & Dayan, New York City, NYsolo
2012Alberto BurriEstorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, Londonsolo
2011From real substance to enchanting formPalazzo Panizza, Turinsolo
2010Combustione: Alberto Burri and America Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CAsolo
2010Alberto Burri: Multiplex / Cellotex Folini Arte, Chiassosolo
2010Alberto Burri Luxembourg & Dayan, New York City, NYsolo
2008Burri & Burri Galleria Tega, Milansolo
2008Alberto Burri La Triennale di Milano. Design Museum, Milansolo
2007Alberto Burri Mitchell-Innes & Nash - West Street, New York City, NYsolo
2006Alberto Burri Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madridsolo
2003Alberto Burri - Opere scelte 1948-1993Palazzo Panizza, Turinsolo
2003Alberto Burri. Tutta la graficaFondazione Albizzini, Città di Castellosolo
1995Venezia e La Biennale - I percorsi del Gusto Palazzo Ducale e Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Ca’ Pesaro, La Biennale di Veneziagroup
1994La donazione BurriGalleria degli Uffizi, Firenzesolo
1994Burri - Il Polittico di Atene. Architetture con cactusEthnikí Pinakothìki - Mouseio Alexandrou Soutzou, Atenesolo
1994A B C - Afro Burri CapogrossiGalleria delle Arti, Citta di Castellogroup
1993Burri - Nero e OroMuseo Internazionale della Ceramica, Faenzasolo
1993Burri grafiche dall’88Studio Calcografico Urbino, Museo delle Genti d’Abruzzo, Pescarasolo
1993Alberto BurriGalleria Niccoli, Parmasolo
1993Roma New York 1948-1964The Murray and Isabella Rayburn Foundation, New Yorkgroup
1992Burri 20 GraficheGalleria delle Arti, Citta di Castellosolo
1992Burri oeuvres 1949-1992Galerie Sapone, F.I.A.C. Parissolo
1992Alberto Burri pregledna razstava Grafike 1962-1981Galerija Loza, Kopersolo
1991Burri Cellotex 91Castello di Rivoli, Rivolisolo
1991Alberto Burri opere graficheTeatro Vittorio Emanuele, Messinasolo
1991Alberto Burri MixoblackMixografia Gallery, Los Angelessolo
1991Alberto BurriPalazzo Pepoli Campogrande, Bolognasolo
1991Percorsi nel moderno e nel contemporaneoFerruzzi per l'Arte, Terrazza Frau Spoletogroup
1990Alberto BurriSalvatore Ala Gallery, New Yorksolo
1990Perielio: Burri-SaffoIstituto Italiano di Cultura, Atenesolo
1990BurriGalerie Sapone, F.I.A.C., Parissolo
1990Memoria del Futuro Arte Italiano desde las primeras vanguardias a la posguerra Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madridgroup
1989Alberto BurriGalleria La Polena, Genovasolo
1989Burri grafica 1959-1984Centro Culturale S. Bartolomeo, Bergamosolo
1989Burri 3 CellotexGalleria Lia Rumma, Napolisolo
1989BurriGalleria Milart, Romasolo
1989Burri Wien 1953-1968 4 PittureMuseum moderner Kunst, Wiensolo
19891984 Rosso e neroItalienisches Kulturinstitut, Wiensolo
1989Burri 25 grafiche 1 sculturaGalleria delle Arti, Citta di Castellosolo
1989BurriGalerie Sapone, Nicesolo
1989Italian Art in the 20th CenturyRoyal Academy of Arts, Londongroup
1988Oltre l’apparenza : i nuovi sviluppi astratti di Burri, Accardi, Dorazio, Santomaso XLIII Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, Veneziasolo
1988Burri S. VitaleMuseo Nazionale complesso San Vitale, Ravennasolo
1988Alberto Burri, Non ama il NeroGalleria Sprovieri, Romasolo
1988Alberto Burri Annottarsi, (Up to nite)The Murray and Isabella Rayburn Foundation, New Yorksolo
1988AssegaiGalleria Eva Menzio, Torinosolo
1988Mythos Italien, Wintermärchen DeutschlandHaus der Kunst, Münchengroup
1987Alberto Burri Graphische Werke 1959-1985Kunstverein, Bürgermeister-Reichert-Haus, Ludwigshafensolo
1987Alberto Burri Graphische Werke 1959-1985Hahnentorburg, Kölnsolo
1987Burri, Il Viaggio, Sestante, AnnottarsiEx Stabilimento Industriale Peroni, Romasolo
1987Burri, Monotex, Multipli, Grande Ferro KPalazzo del Rettorato, Museo Laboratorio dell'Universita degli Studi - La Sapienza, Romasolo
1987L'Informale in ItaliaKunstmuseum, Luzerngroup
1986Alberto Burri oeuvre graphique 1959-1985 Maison de la Culture, Amienssolo
1986Burri 18 paintings 1953-1986DiLaurenti Gallery, New Yorksolo
1986Burri opera graficaAccademia di Belle Arti, Reggio Calabriasolo
1986Alberto Burri (graphics)Musee de l’Imprimerie, Lyon solo
1986Alberto Burri opere grafiche 1967-83Galleria d’Arte Il Sole, Bolzanosolo
1986Arte astrattaGalleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Romagroup
1985Alberto Burri Opere recentiGalleria Sanluca, Bolognasolo
1985Burri, Combustioni, Cretti, Cellotex 1974-1984Galerie Artcurial, Parissolo
1985Alberto BurriCentro Congressi La Serra, Ivreasolo
1985Alberto Burri opere recentiGalleria Sprovieri, Romasolo
1985The European IcebergArt Gallery of Ontario, Torontogroup
1984Alberto Burri, Cretti e CellotexGalerie Sapone, Nicesolo
1984BurriBrera 2, Palazzo Citterio, Milanosolo
1984Arte Ambiente Scena XLI Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, Veneziasolo
1984Alberto Burri. Rosso e NeroGalerie des Ponchettes, Musees de Nice, Nicesolo
1984Grafica - piccoli dipinti.Galleria delle Arti, Citta di Castellosolo
1984VeneziaXLI Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte, La Biennale di Veneziagroup
1983Burri, SestanteEx Cantieri Navali, Giudecca, Veneziasolo
1983L' Informale in ItaliaGalleria d'Arte Moderna, Bolognagroup
1982Alberto BurriPalm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, Californiasolo
1982Alberto Burri, Il Viaggio Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohiosolo
1982Documenta 7Museum Fridericianum, Orangerie, Neue Galerie, Kasselgroup
1981Alberto Burri 1 Scultura, 10 MultiplexGalleria L'Isola, Romasolo
1981Burri opere grafiche 1959-81.Palazzo Pubblico, Sienasolo
1981Alberto Burri, RetrospectiveGalerie Marie-Louise Jeanneret, Genèvesolo
1981Alberto Burri, Cellotex und MultiplexGalerie im Taxispalais, Innsbrucksolo
1981Linee della ricerca artistica in Italia 1960-1980Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Romagroup
1980Alberto Burri, Il ViaggioStaatsgalerie moderner Kunst, Münchensolo
1980Alberto Burri Prints Istituto Italiano di Cultura, New Yorksolo
1980Burri, obras graficas Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Madridsolo
1980OrsanmicheleOrsanmichele, Firenzesolo
1980Arte Astratta Italiana 1909-1959Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Romagroup
1979Alberto Burri - I sacchi 1952-1958 Mostra Omaggio ad Alberto BurriGalleria Lorenzelli, Milanosolo
1979Alberto BurriGalleria d'Arte Sanluca, Bolognasolo
1979Alberto Burri: Cellotex, una scultura, 1978-1979 Studio Marconi, Milanosolo
1979Alberto Burri 1978-1979J. Corcoran Gallery, Los Angelessolo
1979Alberto Burri, la misura aurea della materia Galleria Anna D’Ascanio, Romasolo
1979Alberto Burri, Il ViaggioSeccatoio del tabacco tropicale, Citta di Castellosolo
1979Artisti italiani nella XV Biennale di San Paolo del BrasileQuadriennale Nazionale d’Arte, Romagroup
1978Alberto BurriMuseo di Capodimonte, Napolisolo
1978Sei stazioni per Artenatura. La natura dell’arte La Biennale di Venezia, Veneziagroup
1977Burri Cellotex 1974-1977Galleria Sanluca, Bolognasolo
1977Alberto Burri opere grafiche 1973-1977 Galleria 2RC, Milano-Romasolo
1977Dall'opera al coinvolgimento. L 'opera: simboli e immagini. linea analiticaGalleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Torinogroup
1976Alberto Burri (graphics)Galleria Lo Spazio, Roma solo
1976Alberto Burri. Disegni tempere e grafiche 1948-1976Palazzo Ducale, Pesarosolo
1976Alberto BurriGalleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Romasolo
1976Europa America, L'astrazione determinata 1960/1976Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Bolognagroup
1975Alberto BurriSacro Convento di San Francesco, Assisisolo
1975Müveszeti Törekvesek Olaszorszagban 1930-1968Szepmüveszeti Müzeum, Budapestgroup
1974Alberto Burri. Oeuvres recentesGalerie Jacques Benador, Genèvesolo
1974Alberto Burri (graphics)Galleria Il Segnapassi, Pesaro solo
1974Ghenos, Eros, ThanatosGalleria de' Foscherari, Bolognagroup
1973Alberto Burri (graphics)Galleria Grafica Oggi, Milano solo
1973Opere recenti di Alberto BurriGalleria d'arte Sanluca, Bolognasolo
1973Contatto arte/citta XV TriennaleTriennale, Milanogroup
1972Alberto BurriMusee National d'Art Moderne, Parissolo
1972Situazione dell’arte non figurativaPalazzo delle Esposizioni, X Quadriennale Nazionale d’Artegroup
1971Alberto BurriGalleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Torinosolo
1971Alberto Burri (graphics)Modern Art Agency, Napoli solo
1971Alberto Burri (graphics)Libreria Galleria Cangrande, Verona solo
1971Alberto Burri (graphics)Libreria Stampatori, Torino solo
1971Italienische Kunst heuteAkademie der Bildenden Kunste, Wiengroup
1970Alberto BurriGalleria A.C.M.E., Bresciasolo
1970Alberto BurriGalleria Qui Arte Contemporanea, Romasolo
1970Alberto BurriGalleria La Tartaruga, Alberto Burrisolo
1970Alberto Burri (graphics)Galleria Transart, Milano solo
1970Contemporary trendsJapan World Exposition, Osakagroup
1969Alberto BurriGalleria Sanluca, Bolognasolo
1969Burri opere recentiGalleria Notizie, Torinosolo
1969Nuovi materiali nuove tecnicheCaorle, Veneziagroup
1968Opere recenti di BurriGalleria Blu, Milanosolo
1968Burri-Fontana-Yves Klein-Manzoni.Galleria Notizie, Torinogroup
1967Alberto BurriKunsthalle, Darmstadtsolo
1967Alberto BurriMuseum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdamsolo
1967BurriGalleria La Tartaruga, Romasolo
1967Contemporary Italian ArtUlster Museum: Art Gallery, Belfastgroup
1966Burri XXXIII Biennale d’Arte, Veneziasolo
1966Alberto Burri and Lucio FontanaWells College, Aurora, (New York)solo
1966Aspetti dell'arte italiana contemporaneaGalleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Romagroup
1964Painting & Sculpture of a Decade 54-64Tate Gallery, Londongroup
1964Painting & Sculpture of a Decade 54-64Tate Gallery, Londongroup
1963Alberto BurriThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houstonsolo
1963Opere scelte...Galleria Notizie, Torinogroup
1962Alternative attuali. Omaggio a BurriCastello Cinquecentesco, L'Aquilasolo
1962BurriGalleria Marlborough, Romasolo
1962Art since 1950Seattle World's Fair, Seattlegroup
1961Burri Mostra antologica con opere dal 1948 al 1955Galleria La Medusa, Romasolo
1961BurriGalerie de France, Parissolo
1961Venice Biennale Prize Winners 1960World House Galleries, New Yorkgroup
1960Alberto Burri XXX Biennale d’Arte, Veneziasolo
1960BurriMartha Jackson Gallery, New Yorksolo
1960BurriHanover Gallery, Londonsolo
1960Muestra Individual de Alberto BurriMuseo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Airessolo
1960AntagonismesMusee des Arts Decoratifs, Parisgroup
1959Alberto BurriGalerie Marie-Suzanne Feigel, Baselsolo
1959BurriPalais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxellessolo
1959Burri- TapiesGalerie Beyeler, Baselsolo
1959Mostra di Alberto BurriGalleria La Loggia, Bolognasolo
1959Alberto BurriGalleria La Tartaruga, Romasolo
1959Alberto BurriMuseum Haus Lange, Krefeldsolo
1959Three Directions in Painting and Sculpture of Younger Italian ArtistsItalian Festival, San Franciscogroup
1958BurriGalleria La Salita, Romasolo
1958Burri: FerriGalleria Blu, Milanosolo
1958Alberto BurriGalleria Alberti, Bresciasolo
1958Pittori tedeschi e italiani contemporaneiGalleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Romagroup
1957BurriGalleria del Naviglio, Milanosolo
1957Burri: CombustioniGalleria dell'Obelisco, Romasolo
1957Opere di Alberto BurriGalleria La Loggia, Bolognasolo
1957Alberto BurriGalleria La Bussola, Torinosolo
1957Paintings by Alberto BurriMuseum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburghsolo
1957Afro, Burri, ScialojaGalleria La Tartaruga, Roma group
1956BurriGalleria del Cavallino, Veneziasolo
1956Burri et CesarGalerie Rive Droite, Parissolo
1956International Collage ExhibitionRose Fried Gallery, New Yorkgroup
1955BurriStable Gallery, New Yorksolo
1955The Collages of Alberto BurriFine Arts Center, Colorado Springssolo
1955Artistas Italianos de hojeIII Bienal, São Paulogroup
1954BurriGalleria dell'Obelisco, Romasolo
1954Alberto Burri Recent PaintingsFrumkin Gallery, Chicagosolo
1954Art to live withDe Cordova Museum, Lincoln (Massachusetts)group
1953BurriFondazione Origine, Romasolo
1953Alberto Burri Paintings and CollagesFrumkin Gallery, Chicagosolo
1953Alberto BurriStable Gallery, New Yorksolo
1953Twenty imaginary views of the American Scene by twenty young Italian ArtistsHelena Rubinstein Collection, New Yorkgroup
1952Neri e MuffeGalleria dell'Obelisco, Romasolo
195213 Opere di BurriGalleria d'Arte Contemporanea, Firenzesolo
1952Jovenes y maestros en la pintura Italiana de hoyMuseo Nacional des Bellas Artes, Montevideogroup
1951Origine, Ballocco-Burri-Capogrossi-CollaFondazione Origine, Romagroup
1949Alberto BurriGalleria dell'Angelo, Citta di Castellosolo
1949UnknownSalon des Realites Nouvelles, Musee d’Art Moderne, Parisgroup
1948Alberto BurriGalleria La Margherita, Romasolo
1948Alberto BurriGalleria dell’Angelo, Citta di Castellosolo
1947Alberto BurriGalleria La Margherita, Romasolo
1947Premio PerugiaAccademia delle Belle Arti - Pietro Vannucci, saletta Brufani, Perugiagroup