Kunstsammlung NRW
Il Grande Cretto di Gibellina, alle Fotos auf dieser Seite: Nóra Lukács, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen

Il Grande Cretto – In Search of Alberto Burri in Sicily

A photoseries with commentary for #32.

As a rule, you need to go on a pilgrimage to become familiar with Alberto Burri's creative achievement in all of its facets. Only five of his works are accessible in public collections in Germany, and the artist's entire estate is deliberately located far from the art world in Città di Castello, his birth town in Umbria.

For those of you who have rediscovered Burri's work – or have become acquainted with it for the first time – through the exhibition "The Trauma of Painting" at the K21 might want to follow the recommendations of Valerie Hortolani and Nóra Lukács during your next visit to Italy by making a side trip to the western part of Sicily. Situated in the remote town of Gibellina is the only Land Art monument by this artist – a must for all new and old Burri fans!

This photoseries displays a very special station of the research trip undertaken by the curators of the Düsseldorf exhibition in order to search out Burri's traces. For #32, Nóra Lukács provides commentary on a series of her favorite photographs of Il Grande Cretto di Gibellina.

On our way: The Roofs of Città di Castello in Umbria

The effect of Leonardo da Vinci's principle of sfumato, a painting technique that envelops the landscapes found in the backgrounds of paintings in misty fog, effacing boundaries and contours, can be experienced directly at the Città di Castello during the morning hours. The autodidact Alberto Burri was familiar with this 15th century artistic tradition, and it was significant for his later work. During his youth, he regularly viewed the frescoes of neighboring Renaissance cloisters such as those of Sansepolcro and Assisi.



Arrival in Gibellina: A Colossal Monument

In the middle of the deserted landscape of Sicily, you can discover an artwork of enormous dimensions: the monument Il Grande Cretto (eng.: The Grand Craquelure) by Alberto Burri. In 1985, the artist covered the ruins of the town of Gibellina, which was destroyed by an earthquake, with a thick layer of white cement, which is traversed by steep, accessible aisles.



From a birds eye view perspective, the work resembles one of Burri's Cretti paintings. No longer entirely white today, the signs of age allude perhaps all the more eloquently to the harrowing event that is recalled by the monument.



Difficult Access

Gibellina is found 80 km south of Palermo on the island of Sicily. Up until today, the streets of the province of Trapani are often damaged by landslides. The place is difficult to access by means of public transportation; the best plan is to rent a car in Palermo, as we did.



Apocalyptic Atmosphere

As we began our trip in March of 2015, a windy storm raged on Sicily. The apocalyptic mood generated by the weather was quite appropriate to Gibellina, and makes these images so atmospheric.



The Work's Origins

In 1968, the town of Gibellina was destroyed by an earthquake. For about 10 years, the Gibellinesi were obliged to live in provisional accommodations in the vicinity of their former houses, and were eventually resettled to a newly founded town about 10 km away. "Gibellina Nuova," known as a "dream in a process of becoming" is characterized by public gardens, postmodern buildings, broad streets, and numerous large contemporary sculptures. With the progress of the project, the new town received more donations from artists then all of Italy combined – enough for an exhibition in the newly built museum for contemporary art.



Art Donations for the Inhabitants

In 1983, Alberto Burri – along with Joseph Beuys and other artists – was invited by the mayor to donate a work to the new town. As Burri walked through the rubble in the twilight of evening, he was so overwhelmed by the ruins of the destroyed town that he resolved to work with the original terrain of Gibellina.



From a Distance

Even from a great distance, Il Grande Cretto is already visible in the hilly landscape – a gigantic monochrome in the middle of the natural setting. The architectural sculpture covers a surface of approximately 8 ha.



First Building Phase

The construction of the monument took place in a number of stages between 1985 and 1989, and was dependent upon available financial resources. Work came to a standstill when the funds stopped flowing. In 2010, an appeal signed by artists, architects, and curators called for the restoration and completion of the final phase of the Cretto.




In 2014, work recommenced, and was completed finally in 2015 – on the occasion of the artist's 100th birthday. The newer, luminous white areas are easily recognizable. When we visited the site in March of 2015, construction work was still ongoing.



Far from Mass Tourism

The monument is not a tourist attraction, and during our stay, we were the only visitors. One readily loses sight of one's companion, embarking on a solitary voyage of discovery within the steep, roughly shoulder-height corridors within this concrete sarcophagus.



Burri's Influence

The influence of Burri's Il Grande Cretto di Gibellina on another famous monument is readily detectable, namely the "Memorial to the Murdered Jews Of Europe" in Berlin, completed by Peter Eisenman in 2005.





Anyone who spends time in the area will repeatedly encounter landscape elements such as dried out earth or the historic sepulchral architecture of the neighboring cemetery of Gibellina, which remained miraculously unscathed during the earthquake, and which might well have inspired Burri's Cretti.

Text and photos on this page: Nóra Lukács
Editing: Alissa Krusch