See a Tree Growing: Giuseppe Penone

The image shows an ink drawing of a reclining figure. It is a work by the artist Giuseppe Penone.
Giuseppe Penone, Studio per Gesto vegetale1984. © Adagp, Paris, 2022. Photo © Centre Pompidou/Cecilia Laulanne.

Giuseppe Penone. Dessins
October 19, 2022 – March 6, 2023
Centre Pompidou, Paris

See a tree growing. See an artist develop his ideas. 
Perhaps the two are not that far from each other.

Giuseppe Penone has donated 328 works on paper to the collection of the Centre Pompidou. 241 of them, complemented by relevant sculptures and installations, are on show at the museum until March 6, 2023.

Dating from the late 1960s to the mid-2010s, the drawings relate to Penone’s sculptural and installational work. So simple in their final execution, the works on paper show the development of the artist’s ideas, led by the hand, and a feeling for his subject: nature. Seeing the direct relation between process and product is a revelation in terms of artistic understanding.

The image shows a drawing in black and purple of a round form resembling a plate of a tree trunk. It is a work by the artist Giuseppe Penone.
Giuseppe Penone, Racchiudere i millenni negli anni 2010. © Adagp, Paris, 2022. Photo © Centre Pompidou/Cecilia Laulanne.

The works shed light on the artist’s process, and his focus on material. Graphite, China ink, crayon; wood, bronze, clay. Giuseppe Penone at the same time investigates his materials as he exposes – in the most positive way – their specificity. 

Frottage, geometrical forms, free lines. Hair becomes strawberries, kale, and birds. Surrealism pops up: Some of the shapes recall the vegetal forms in the drawings by Salvador Dalí [Patate, 1977], the frottage relates to the work of Max Ernst. Forms developing into something different. [Essere fiume, 1975].

Being one with nature, both with regards to material and subject. The exhibition illustrates Penone’s work developing in dialogue with nature: Trees, vegetables, the body; leaves, clay, stone, both as medium and motif. Aged 22, the artist stated: “Man is not a spectator or agent, he is simply nature.” 

The image shows an open exhibition room. In the centre, two sculptures resembling tree trunks are placed; at the left back wall, various framed drawings are hanging. It is an installation view from the exhibition "Giuseppe Penone. Dessins" at Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2022.
Giuseppe Penone. Dessins, installation view at Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Centre Pompidou, Paris. Photo © Centre Pompidou/Cecilia Laulanne.

The series Gesti vegetali introduces the human figure. The body as a tree, or a leaf in the size of a (wo)man. With this series, Penone aimed at fossilizing movement. Mission completed: the brush strokes in China ink seem as vivid as in their moment of creation. One might argue that certain materials bear a certain character. Penone’s drawings keep their own, remain ‘fuori’. Nothing to relate them to, perhaps a late Matisse. Then, what is a vegetal gesture? Perhaps there is no visual reference because there is none in terms of thinking. These works are brilliant and uplifting.

The frottage of a tree suddenly does not seem so different from that of a fingertip. Without wishing to suppose too much: It feels like I’m in the artist’s head and hand [Nella pelle della mano lo sguardo, 1971].

Penone’s sketches for his major project Soffio, continue to elaborate the relation between the human body and nature: a tree, a leaf, a root, the breath. I want to push myself against this sculpture. The clay seems to inhabit the touch.  With Soffio, the artist aimed at making the invisible visible; the works presented make the imperceptible perceivable. Feel the thought, the material, the touch [while not touching].

The image shows three drop-formed shapes in ochre. Behind the central shape a human figure is drawn. It is a drawing by the artist Giuseppe Penone.
Giuseppe Penone, Soffi, 1977. © Adagp, Paris, 2022. Photo © Centre Pompidou/Cecilia Laulanne.

His drawings Impronte – Sottosopra show the abstraction of the body. Suddenly the tree grows out of the hand. Philemon and Baucis, antiquity, eternity. Other drawings resemble the marks at Lascaux. The exhibition presents a life-long experiment, outwards to the material and inwards to the body.

The sculptures and installations make apparent what the drawings show in a subtler way: This oeuvre is conceptual and poetic; ‘poor’ in material [Arte Povera] and rich in sensation. An earthy exhibition; natural and artistic. 

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive catalogue documenting Giuseppe Penone’s donation to the Centre Pompidou Paris.