15:33 PM

River of Forms: Giuseppe Penone’s Drawings

September 24, 2022 – February 26, 2023

In celebration of an exceptional gift of drawings by one of Italy's leading contemporary artists, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present a major exhibition examining the poetic vision of Giuseppe Penone, whose artistic production from the late 1960s to the present invites a timely rumination on the relationship between human experience and nature. River of Forms: Giuseppe Penone's Drawings will demonstrate the centrality of drawing in the artist's work through a selection from the important gift and related sculptures. The exhibition will convey Penone's extraordinary range of mark-making techniques and will trace his explorations of drawing as an interface between artist and nature. Visitors arriving at the West Entrance will first encounter Identity, a monumental bronze outdoor sculpture by Penone (collection, the artist) in which two intertwining trees extend toward the sky. Inside, they will discover the artist's Thoughts and Sap, an extended frottage (or rubbing) on linen of an acacia tree that includes an essay by Penone. Stretching laterally about 88 and a half feet, this work will occupy a wall of the corridor approaching the entrance to the Daniel W. Dietrich II Galleries, where the exhibition will be presented. River of Forms: Giuseppe Penone's Drawings is organized by Carlos Basualdo, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, with Lara Demori Ph.D., Research Associate, and is accompanied by a major scholarly catalogue.  

In 2020, the Philadelphia Museum of Art announced Giuseppe Penone's gift of 309 drawings and five artist books, including many works that have never exhibited or reproduced before. It constitutes a significant portion of the artist's corpus of works on paper, which spans from the late 1960s until today. River of Forms will include nearly 200 of these works, along with 12 sculptures and 21 etchings, and other objects, and will illuminate the central role that drawing plays in his practice and how it has informed many large sculptures throughout the years. Penone made the gift to the museum in honor of his wife, Dina Carrara.  

One of the youngest members of 1960s Arte Povera movement in Italy, Penone (b. 1947) continues to incorporate natural materials in his work, such as wood, stone, and clay. His drawings reflect a range of artistic techniques and processes in pencil, biro, watercolor, coffee, India ink, graphite, charcoal, adhesive tape, and leaves, and other media.  

The exhibition will be installed mostly chronologically and in thematic clusters of works on paper and sculptures. Among the highlights will be drawings from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, including preparatory sketches for installations and sculptures. Works such as Project for the Exhibition at G. Enzo Sperone, 1969, appear as sketches for future installations accompanied by text. Other drawings reflect aspects of related sculptural, installation, or performative works, such as Project for mirroring lens – to look at the street, 1970. One section of the exhibition will include the monotype Sculpture, 1974, which contains the imprint of human skin on graphite resembling thin branches or tangled spider webs, spreading over the composition in an irregular pattern. The large-scale Untitled, 1992, consists of six sheets of watercolor with ink that mimics the stream of a river, the growth of a branch, or perhaps calligraphy. The exhibition will feature two wall drawings from the series of Propagations,1994–2022, thin concentric lines radiating from a central fingerprint over the entire surface of the wall, and a group of 21 new etchings entitled Somersault, 2020. Finally, the exhibition will also include three brief videos named Ephemeris, which feature the artist in the process of making his work.  

“Penone is one of the most important sculptors active today, and his drawing plays a foundational role within his larger body of work,” noted Carlos Basualdo. “This extraordinary group of drawings, shown together with some of Penone's key related sculptures, will allow us to trace the evolution of Penone's work and to grasp its rigorous logic through the astonishing map of his imagination.”  

The artist commented: “At the foundation of every single work of art the fascination and wonder that the world and its matter provoke is always felt. It is that fascination that the work, even a simple drawing, can evoke through its signs, its colors. This thought makes me believe and hope that the public will be able to share and appreciate my work, which I hope will manage to convey a sense of participation and belonging. A drawing is both the tracing of a person's hand, and it is the imprint of a thought. This group of drawings is a journey through the ideas that have nourished my work, and my hope is that the public will be able to feel and to share this energy.”  

Catalogue The related publication, which shares the same title as the exhibition, is co-published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Yale University Press. It will include an introductory essay by Carlos Basualdo, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, as well as the first translation into English of the text “Pensieri e Linfa” (Sap and Thought) by Penone, which features the long frottage that will be on view. Lara Demori Ph.D., Research Associate, will situate Penone's work within the Minimalism and Post-minimalism movements, while conservators Jacklyn Chi and Thomas Primeau will focus on the materiality of Penone's drawings.


Carlos Basualdo, Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, with Lara Demori, Ph.D., Research Associate.  


River of Forms: Giuseppe Penone's Drawings is supported by the Italian Council (10th edition, 2021), program to promote Italian contemporary art in the world by the Directorate General for Contemporary Creativity of the Italian Ministry of Culture. 

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Additional funding is provided by the Daniel W. Dietrich II Fund for Excellence in Contemporary Art, Barbara B. and Theodore R. Aronson, Ginevra Caltagirone, Ms. Jennifer S. Rice and Mr. Michael C. Forman, Susan and James Meyer, Agnes Gund, Katherine Sachs, Thomas and Alice Tisch, Constance and Sankey Williams, and other generous donors. 

Support for the accompanying publication was provided by Gagosian, Marian Goodman Gallery, and Susan and James Meyer. 

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