Rimini, Bruno Corà speaks at the exhibition dedicated to Alberto Burri (Archivio Meeting)

Alberto Burri: Never be still

A guest for the first time at the Meeting was Bruno Corà, President of the Foundation named after the great artist to whom one of the most visited exhibitions in Rimini was dedicated.
Maria Acqua Simi

Bruno Corà, born in Rome in 1942, is a well-known art critic and historian, and is President of the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri in Città di Castello. We met him on a colourful bench in the pavilion that is hosting the exhibition "Burri. Forma spazio equilibrio" [Burri. Shape space balance]. In front of us is the largest canvas ever made by Maestro Alberto Burri: Sacco, 1969. It was designed and made for the backdrop of the first act of the theatre drama Avventura di un povero Cristiano [Adventure of a poor Christian], based on the novel by Ignazio Silone. The exhibition unfolds around this imposing work, studied down to the smallest detail to introduce the public of the Rimini Meeting to this great outsider of Italian and international painting. However, Corà's gaze is not captured by the exhibition, which he knows inside out, but rather by the young people who have put their heart and soul into presenting it. And by the multitude of people, of all ages, who in 2023 “are still able to listen and look.” The interview now begins but very little is said about Burri (spoiler).

It is your first time at the Meeting. First impressions?
The first thing that struck me was the amount of people. When the Fiera opens in the morning, seeing thousands of people pouring into the pavilions and exhibitions is not common. The second thing I have observed is that there was a very high influx of people in the areas where meetings on art were organised, who were really interested. There are also a lot of young people who come to listen to these young people who act as guides: they are volunteers who have prepared themselves, they have read up in order to be able to explain who an artist like Burri was. Each shift of the exhibition counts at least fifty people and the shifts are continuous. This means that in one day over a thousand visitors pass through here. And this impresses me because this is not common for an art exhibition.

You did not expect that...
No. And I would add one thing: it is true that number does not always equate to quality, but in this case the attention that I observe on the part of the visitors, the fact that they stayed in their groups for half an hour without anyone ever leaving, the continuous listening, the silence around the guide... All of this is cause for surprise, for reflection, because it is what one finds in a university lecture hall, in certain environments where culture is specifically located. The Meeting has this aspect: it is strongly cultural. Also because the topics that are dealt with are of a scientific, cultural, political, productive or even sociological nature, and this makes it a special place.

What was it like working on this exhibition?
The work was complex because we thought of summarizing Burri's character, his art, his biography and his works in an essential manner. A single masterpiece, the Sacco (Sack), and then some multiple works; the graphic works - which are very interesting for the general public because they reveal so many aspects of Burri's life and activity - and then a congruous audiovisual communication apparatus, made up of projections, films, and photographs that give an account of the artist's experience in its entirety.

Let me take a step back: how did you come to be in charge of the Foundation?
Behind my current responsibility as President of the Burri Foundation lies 50 years of work. I started my activity as an art critic-historian in 1970. After my studies I was militant. I lived with artists, visited their studios, slept, ate, travelled with them. And I curated many of their exhibitions. They were international artists: German, French, English, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, African... This was my life. There was not a moment, an instant, a day, a night where I did not do this.

What was the beginning of your passion for art, though, do you remember?
It began when I was in shorts. At the age of twelve I already had an interest in art, because I lived in Rome, a city where everywhere you walk there is a stone that speaks to you. At that time it almost became a game: some friends and I would walk about ten kilometres, because we lived in the suburbs, and we would go to the centre where there were art exhibitions. There we would play the game of recognising the artists without looking at the names of the paintings. So it started as a game, which in the end is always the best, because you learn through games. Then it became a deeper, more central interest. Always, however, through an encounter with masters. In art it is important to meet masters: they are the ones who share secrets with you, who tell you the elementary but also the salient things, and this helps you on your way. Because it keeps your curiosity alive. It is an initiation, that of art. Masters are important. I had not just one, but several. And even today I continue to have masters, especially meeting them in reading, in the continuous study of their works.

In Rome you were stumbling over art, literally, but when I think of young people today, who are always on their phones, I wonder if any of them still have the ability to observe and look at the world around them as you did.
Even if it is true that they are always looking at their mobile phones – and this certainly does not leave me indifferent, in fact it upsets me –I have immense faith in young people. An immense trust. I could not not have it, I would be foolish, because they are the future. Indeed they are already the present. They are history, so I live and watch history as it is made, as it happens, just as I lived and watched it when I was young. One must always read time and the hour on the clock of the young, not just on the clock of us who are older. On the youth clock you read the time that is happening and the time that is to come. Sometimes we cannot understand this time of ours, so it is even more necessary to look at young people and therefore also at their mobile phones, because in their mobile phones there is probably a new language, a new way of seeing, of reasoning, of thinking. It is all new, it is all to be understood, to be known. There is never a stop, a halt, everything is in continuous motion.

An evolutionary tension, as someone would say....
I believe in a word that has occupied me a lot in recent years and which is also a work schedule: overcoming. Things keep on overcoming each other, reality is a continuous overcoming, a continuous transformation, there is no stop, there is no rest, and one must be able to reason, reflect, and meditate even in this continuous dynamic. Tension is constant, there is no stop.

When you say 'tension', do you mean this in a positive sense? Like a desire to go further?
Absolutely yes, in a positive sense. Even when we are asleep we are alive, we continue to live, there is no stop, there is no movement that stops. And probably even after we die it will be like that. That things are still, finished, is a misconception. We cannot stop, if only because we are on top of a vehicle that goes thousands of kilometres per hour in space, that never stops. It is called planet Earth.

Let us return to Burri. It is an important task to preserve his memory, but at the same time also preserve tension you spoke of. How does one do this?
It is a great responsibility because the figure of this artist is also great. In some ways, we are almost naturally prepared for things, because we are old, we have seen everything there is to see. However, the experience is always open, because art never ends. I try to explain myself: on the one hand, it is necessary to be attentive to reality as it happens, on the other hand, everything that has happened before we know and therefore we can somehow 'manage' it. Not only that, we can also communicate it, transmit it, we can reflect on it, even change our opinion, because opinions also need to be changed when one makes a mistake.

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Have you changed any?
Yes, of course. But not only me, even the greatest art critics change their opinions, because the point of view changes throughout history, it is art itself that makes you change. Burri is a case in point: he used different materials and was often considered 'the artist of materials'. But he used the material itself, as a 'medium' for painting: tar as tar, plastic as plastic. Today we know, because quantum physics tells us so, that neither tar, nor plastic, nor wood, nor iron... nothing is just mass, but is molecular, atomic, particle entities. So matter does not exist as a block. So we have to start looking at works in a different way from the way we looked at them fifty years ago. The gaze changes because today the means we have at our disposal also change: for example, if one looks at a painting inside a mobile phone, that is not the painting, it is the reproduction of an image, moreover reproduced luminously, not with pictorial matter, so it is a different matter. Do you understand? You have to constantly change point of view.

Never be still.
Never. It makes your head spin a bit, but it is worth it.