Giuseppe Penone spent his early years in the countryside, giving him an inalienable sense of the importance of the bond between humans and nature and the often invisible ways in which they impact each other. This is the main theme of his art. A occhi chiusi, created half a century after his earliest works, is the perfect synthesis of his artistic career.
The central part of the grand triptych is made of a white marble plaque whose veins have been carved out. Penone lays bare the inner life of the marble, which resembles a vastly enlarged patch of human skin, evoking depth and yet at the same time the superficiality of skin. On either side of the plaque, he has drawn two huge closed eyes using acacia thorns. He shares the surrealist credo: with our eyes closed, our imagination – literally the faculty of picturing images – is greater than ever. The eyes here are shown as negatives, with white lashes and dark eyelids. Vision is thus doubly inverted, the closed eyes blinded, the light reversed, leading paradoxically to a limitless field of vision.
The thousands of acacia thorns, their tips pointing outwards, do not represent the artist’s penetrating gaze as is the case for Alberto Giacometti’s surrealist Pointe à l’œil (Relations désagrégeantes) (c. 1931–2, Paris, Centre Pompidou). Instead, they represent the almost infinite expanse of points of contact in our skin and nerve endings capable of registering touch. The body symbolised by the relief includes the mineral, animal, and plant kingdoms, a body in all its states, and an interface for connecting with the world.
Giuseppe Penone. The Inner Life of Forms, New York, Gagosian, New York, Rizzoli, 2018.
Bernard Fibicher (dir.), Giuseppe Penone. Regards croisés, exh. cat. Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Milan, 5 Continents Editions, 2015.
Françoise Jaunin, Giuseppe Penone: le regard tactile [interviews], Lausanne, La Bibliothèque des Arts, 2012.