Seeing Through Closed Eyelids: Giuseppe Penone and the Nature of Sculpture
Published: April 2021© 2021
238 Pages, 6.30 x 9.25 x 0.75 in, 41 colour illustrations, 46 b&w illustrations
Can a work of art help us know our world differently? In this first scholarly study of Giuseppe Penone, art historian Elizabeth Mangini argues that the Italian artist’s engagement of the body’s multiple senses constitutes a new theory of sculpture as a means to connect with and know the phenomenal world. Through close readings of signal works across Penone’s five-decade career – from his emergence in the context of 1960s Arte povera to his position as a pre-eminent contemporary artist today – Mangini demonstrates how Penone refuses modernist opticality, recasts artistic labour, and emphasizes a non-anthropocentric concept of time. Penone’s approach challenges viewers to broaden their sensory and temporal perceptions, creating structurally significant new ways to understand human experience.
Giuseppe Penone is best known for his engagement with trees, which he employs as raw material, imagery, and an active force in the creative process. Seeing Through Closed Eyelids suggests that such works materialize the perceptible tensions between any organism and its environment. By locating Penone’s art in its social context and connecting it to broader discourses about art’s status, theories of phenomenology, and the anthropocene, this book offers an original reading of Penone’s work, as well as a wider view of the artistic generation for whom sculpture was a means to probe the nature of experience itself at the dawn of postmodernism.
List of Figures
His Being in the Twenty-Second Year of Life at a Fantastic Hour
1. Presentness and Trace
2. The Artist Turned Inside-Out
3. Radical Reciprocity: Passive Sculptor / Active Material
4. Tempus Arborus (Tree Time)
An Ontology of Sculpture: Form, Process, and Palimpsest
"In cogent prose, Elizabeth Mangini’s Seeing Through Closed Eyelids establishes the consequence of Penone’s corpus beyond any nominal affiliation or national ascription. Penone, she shows, developed not merely a body of work, but a theory of sculpture – one responsive to international tendencies but rooted in a local engagement with the phenomenology of nature. Examining interrelated bodies of work within a larger career, Mangini’s volume constitutes at once a careful examination of an individual oeuvre and a case study of a fraught moment in post-war Italian culture."Ara H. Merjian, professor of Italian studies and affiliate of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
"An exceptional contribution to the field. Elizabeth Mangini's readings of Penone's career are dense, expansive, and written with a deft, agile clarity that is stunning in both form and content. Her methodologies are richly layered and informed by ethical insights that make this monograph as much a call to reconsidering our place in the world as Penone's in the history of art. This book is paradigmatic of how our field should move into the future."Adrian R. Duran, associate professor of art and art history, University of Nebraska Omaha
"Seeing Through Closed Eyelids shows how Giuseppe Penone, one of the most significant artists to emerge from Italy during the 1960s, transformed the history of modern sculpture and reconceptualized our connection to the natural and social environment. As Elizabeth Mangini explains in this cogently argued and beautifully illustrated book, Penone’s sculptures challenge traditional ideals of aesthetic mastery by entangling artist, artwork, and viewer in their material and earthly context. Drawing on a wide range of philosophical, artistic, and political thinkers, ranging from Maurice Merleau-Ponty to Marcel Duchamp and Paolo Virno, Mangini brilliantly exposes the radically anti-anthropocentric nature of the artist’s practice."Anthony G. White, associate professor of culture and communication, University of Melbourne