Alberto Burri was born in Città di Castello (Perugia) on the 12th of March 1915. He obtained a degree in medicine in 1940. Because he was a medical officer he was taken prisoner by the Allies in Tunisia in 1943 and was sent to Hereford Camp, Texas. This is where he started painting. On his return to Italy in 1946 he settled in Rome and dedicated himself to painting. He held his first one-man show in 1947-1948 in Rome (Galleria La Margherita).
In 1951 he participated in the foundation of the “Origine” group with Ballocco, Capogrossi and Colla. The following year he exhibited ‘Neri e Muffe’ in the Galleria dell’ Obelisco. In 1950 his sack works gained importance, eventually dominating the one-man shows which, after Rome were held in various American and European cities: Chicago, New York, Colorado Springs, Oakland, Seattle, São Paulo, Paris, Milan, Bologna, Turin, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, San Francisco.
At the start of the Sixties, the Legni, Combustioni, and Ferri series were subsequently exhibited (Venice, Rome, London, New York, Brussels, Krefeld, Vienna, Kassel). In the same period the first anthological collections were shown in Paris, Rome, L’Aquila, Livorno and also Houston, Minneapolis, Buffalo, Pasadena, which, with the new contribution of the Plastiche, will then become true historical retrospectives in Damstadt, Rotterdam, Turin and Paris (1967-1972).
The Seventies saw a progressive refinement in his technical methods, with his shift towards monumentality, from Cretti (soil and Vinavil glue) to Cellotex (compressed for industrial use) while in Assisi, Rome, Lisbon, Madrid, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Milwaukee, New York, Naples there was a succession of historical retrospectives. In more recent years Burri created complex cyclic organisms with a polyphonic structure. The first was Il Viaggio exhibited in Città di Castello in 1979 and in Munich the following year, then Orti in Florence 1980, Sestanti in Venice (1983) and Annottarsi (1985-86), which began the European presentation in Rome.
Since 1981 there has been a permanent exhibition of selected works in the Palazzo Albizzini in Città di Castello, Burri’s homage to his hometown. In 1984, a comprehensive exhibition on Burri was organized in Milan for the inauguration of the Brera contemporary art industry.
The painter’s success with the critics was closely connected, on one hand with the contrasting reactions arising from the popularization of his work, engendered by the evolution of taste in the cultural landscape of Europe and the USA.
On the other hand it was connected with the critics’ approximations and attempts to connect meaning and motive to the pseudo-categories popularized internationally: Art brut, Informel, Conceptual, etc. In this climate, newspapers and magazines, from the Fifties, began to register a changing taste in the public, from scandalized repulsion to curiosity and acceptance, from willful acceptance to undiscerning exaltation.
In 1973 Burri received The Premio Feltrinelli per la Grafica from the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei with the following reasoning : «per la qualità e l’invenzione pur nell’apparente semplicità, di una grafica realizzata con mezzi modernissimi, che si integra perfettamente alla pittura dell’artista, di cui costituisce non già un aspetto collaterale, ma quasi una vivificazione che accoppia il rigore estremo ad una purezza espressiva incomparabile [for the quality and originality of the apparently simple images, achieved with modern methods which function perfectly for the artist’s work, not as a collateral aspect but as an invigoration that unites extreme rigor with incomparable expressive purity]».
The prize was then devolved by the artist for the restoration of Luca Signorelli’s cycle of frescos in the Oratorio di S. Crescentino a Morra (Città di Castello).
In 1989 the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini bought the Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco (Old Tobacco Warehouses), a complex of industrial sheds used until the end of the Sixties for the exsiccation of tobacco. These unique and unusually large buildings, completely painted black externally in accordance with Burri’s wishes, were thus transformed into an enormous sculpture, the ideal location for the great pictorial cycles like Il Viaggio, Annottarsi, Rosso e Nero, Non Ama il Nero. These, and many other works, among which the three sculptures: Grande Ferro Sestante, Grande Ferro K, Ferro U, set at the entrance of the Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco, were donated by the artist to Città di Castello to complete the first nucleus in Palazzo Albizzini.
In 1990 the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini published an exhaustive book with documentation on 2000 of the artist’s works (Burri contributi al Catalogo Sistematico). Again in 1990, Burri exhibited in a private New York gallery (Salvatore Ala Gallery) the Palm Springs cycle, the 11 big cellotexes of 1982. Then followed the Perileio: Burri-Saffo exhibition at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Athens. That same year, the Sapone di Nizza gallery showed a series of Cellotex at the F.I.A.C. in Paris and the Grande Ferro R sculpture was installed at the Palazzo delle Arti e dello Sport “Mauro de Andrè” in Ravenna.
In 1991 an extensive retrospective organized by the Pincoteca Nazionale di Bologna was set up at Palazzo Pepoli Campogrande di Bologna, where very small works were exhibited for the first time. The exhibition moved on to Locarno, hosted by the Pinacoteca Comunale Casa Rusca. In the same period the Castello di Rivoli presented 20 previously unseen Cellotex. Again in 1991 Burri exhibited at the Mixografia Gallery in Los Angeles.
In 1992 Metamorfotex was presented to the public at the Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco in Città di Castello and The Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini presented the Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco catalogue on that occasion, with an updated bibliography. Again in the same year the Sapone Gallery of Nice showed works by Burri at the F.I.A.C. in Paris at the Grand Palais, this time works from 1949 to 1992 while Galleria delle Arti of Città di Castello housed a graphic exhibition.
Between 1992 and 1993 the Obalne Galerije Piran and the Moderna Galerija of Lubiana presented a retrospective of graphic works (from 1962 to 1981). At The Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco in 1993 a new cycle was opened to the public, Nero e Oro consisting of 10 Cellotex.
That same year an enormous ceramic work with the same title Nero e Oro was realized for Faenza, and placed in the International Museum of Ceramics, a gift from the artist to the city. Again in 1993 the Master’s graphic works were shown in the Museo delle Genti d’Abruzzo of Pescara. In 1994 Burri participated in The Italian Metamorphosis 1943-1968 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York.
From the 11th of May to the 31st of June 1994 the Polittico di Atene, Architetture con Cactus cycle was on exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Athens subsequently shown at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Madrid (1995). On the 10th of December 1994 there was a celebration for Burri’s donation to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which included a 1969 Bianco e Nero painting and three graphic series dating from 1993 to 1994. Alberto Burri died in Nice on the 13th of February 1995.