See, smell, touch – with his large retrospective at museum Voorlinden, Giuseppe Penone (1947) sharpens your senses. With his iconic sculptures, immersive installations, and intimate works the Italian arte povera artist shows you the connection between man and nature. Experiencing his timeless and poetic oeuvre makes you think and feel differently about this changing world. The retrospective at Voorlinden is on display from 8 October 2022 to 29 January 2023, with a special ‘silence in socks’ hour every weekend.
Penone has worked for about 50 years shaping and interacting with natural materials such as trees, branches, marble and even potatoes. Through intensive manual labour, he looks for traces of a life lived, shows often unseen transformative growth cycles, and emphasizes our own intimate connection with nature. And this is reflected in several sensory works at the retrospective at Voorlinden. For example, for Ripetere il bosco (Repeating the Forest), Penone peeled off the annual rings of a tree to reveal the younger trees hidden inside industrially processed trunks. He reminds you of what was there before, marked by its environment and the passing of time.
Giuseppe Penone: ‘I feel the forest breathing, and hear the slow, inexorable growth of the wood. I match my breathing to that of the green world around me, I feel the flow of the tree around my hand placed against the trunk
Exchange with nature
Giuseppe Penone often works with his breath and fingerprints, making a gentle and poetic plea for a harmonious coexistence of man and nature in the world. In Propagazione (Propagation) for instance, he uses his own fingerprint as the starting point for a monumental wall drawing that resembles the annual rings of a tree. Spazio di luce (Space of Light) is also one of the masterpieces by the Italian artist that is on display at Voorlinden and shows the touch of the artist fused with a tree trunk.
Director Suzanne Swarts: ‘Giuseppe’s oeuvre is pure poetry. He shows you the beauty that surrounds you every day, makes you aware at the world around you. Surrounded by his work, you will feel closer to nature than ever.’
One of the key works of the retrospective at Voorlinden is Sculture di linfa (2005-2007), previously shown at the Venice Biennale and never seen before outside of Italy. As soon as you walk into this immersive installation, you can smell the leather lining the walls and discover the patterns of a tree bark that are printed on the animal skins.
It feels like you’re entering the inside of one of the trees on the Voorlinden estate. In the marble floor you can feel with your feet the drawing Penone made of the human brain.
Giuseppe Penone: ‘What is nature? Nature is whatever is outside; nature will be present even if the human species goes extinct. If you think of humans as part of nature, rather than above nature, then our concerns and nature’s concerns should be equal.’
Silence in socks at Voorlinden
Penone’s work emphasises and reinforces Voorlinden’s relationship between art and nature. Voorlinden has been following the artist’s work for a long time and in the 1990s his bronze sculpture Biforcazione (1991) became part of sculpture garden Clingenbosch. For a full sensory experience of the exhibition, Voorlinden organizes a special ‘silence in socks’-hour every Saturday and Sunday morning. Only 50 people are allowed to come in, take their shoes off and enjoy Penone’s contemplative oeuvre in silence.
Head of exhibitions Barbara Bos: ‘I think Giuseppe Penone masters the art of living. He works steadily on his contemplative oeuvre, wherein he points us to our oneness with nature and natural processes, and that small changes can make great impact over time.’
About Giuseppe Penone
The Italian artist Giuseppe Penone was born in 1947 in Garessio and studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Turin, where he still lives and works. He was the youngest representative of arte povera, a group of artists in Italy that opposed industrialisation and dehumanisation in art in the late 1960s. He has exhibited all over the world and his work is included in important collections, such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London.