During the numerous weekends I spend in Florence, I sometimes seize the opportunity to take a trip out of town and head for Umbria, to Città di Castello. This town is the birthplace of the great Alberto Burri, where his Foundation was launched in 1978, and is, in my view, a must for all lovers of modern Italian art.
The Foundation is the only place in the world where one can appreciate Burri’s work in all its phases, from its beginnings, with rare works from 1949, to the late 1980s. The venue in Palazzo Albizzini – the palace once owned by the family who commissioned Raphael to paint the famous Sposalizio della Vergine (The Marriage of the Virgin), now in the Pinacoteca di Brera – was opened in 1989 to house the artist’s most renowned series, in an installation curated by Burri himself. They are all there: the “Sacchi” (Sacks), the “Combustioni” (using burning techniques), the “Plastiche” (Plastics), the “Cretti” (“cracked” artworks) (including the sketches for the Cretto di Gibellina and the large-scale Cretto Nero di Capodimonte), the “Cellotex” (using an industrial material) and the “Ferri” (Metals), my personal favorites. There are also lesser-known, but invaluable works, such as some sketches for amazing stage sets with plastic or cretti-like backdrops, and the study for the Teatro Continuo in Parco Sempione, Milan.
After my visit, I leave the town center and head for the suburbs, to the Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco, a highly successful example of the restoration of a piece of industrial architecture, which Burri himself wished for and oversaw. Where tobacco was once dried, now more than a hundred large-scale works created between 1970 and 1993 overwhelm the visitor with their potency. Before leaving, I stop in the museum section that contains all the artist’s graphic works and admire the three massive sculptural works that occupy the garden in an almost sacred atmosphere of enormous charm.