The Bloomberg Commission: Giuseppe Penone at the Whitechapel Gallery
The Bloomberg Commission is an annually renewed, site-specific artwork based on the ground floor of the Whitechapel Gallery. Following Josiah McElheny’s installation last year, which featured abstract films reconfigured by a variety of mirrored surfaces, comes the arboreous Italian artist Giuseppe Penone.
Penone is known for creating artworks involving trees, or extracting an artwork from their form. The process of his actions often welcomes a comparison with the form of a natural object that grew according to its own process. This installation Spazio di Luce (Space of Light) is no exception as the form of the artwork extends from the form of a tree, a 12-metre long cast of one. This recalls an earlier piece of work by the artist called All the Years of the tree plus one in which he added a layer of wax to the tree, poetically aging it through his intervention.
However, in this case, the details of the tree’s form solely remains in the golden internal surface of the sculpture, captured by the casting process. The dense metal medium of the piece lacks the sensitivity and warmth that is often found in Penone’s work due to the humble organic materials that he often uses. In fact, the intriguing element of the work is found in the form in which the form of the tree takes in the cast’s installation. The separate metal parts that stand upon spindly branches appear alien and insect-like, referring more to the anxiety of post-war abstract sculpture, rather than the fragile and mundane connotations of the arte povera style which Penone is associated with.