Alberto Burri, “Grande Cretto” (image via Wikimedia)

After three decades of construction, Alberto Burri’s monumental land art installation “Grande Cretto” has finally opened to the public, The Art Newspaper reports.

The work features some 64,583 square feet of white concrete poured directly over the ruins of Gibellina, a town in central Sicily that was destroyed by a 6.1-scale earthquake in 1968. The artist left pathways where the city’s streets once were so that visitors could travel through them and reflect on what’s been lost.

Burri began the project in 1985, after Gibellina’s mayor invited several notable artists and architects to help design a new town some seven miles away from the original site. Burri was asked to “translate for the present generation and for future generations the tragedy, the struggle, the hope and the faith.”

Grande Cretto by Alberto Burri (Image via Wikimedia)

Alberto Burri, “Grande Cretto” (image via Wikimedia)

He chose to do that not by helping create the new town but by memorializing the old one with a concrete shroud. The work commenced for four years until funds dried up in 1989, 21,528 square feet short of completion. Burri died in 1995 before ever seeing it finished. 

That was in itself a mini tragedy, considering “Grande Cretto” was the largest and most dramatic work he ever conceived. He modeled it after a series of paintings he created in the 1970s by intentionally building up the paint so that it cracked. He called these works Cretti, which makes the title of the Gibellina piece — translating to “large” or “great” cretto — fitting. Today the paintings seem like studies of fragility and durability, building up to a final masterpiece.

Not everyone can go see “Grande Cretto,” but luckily many of Burri’s smaller works are on view now in the Guggenheim’s retrospective of the artist. Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting runs through January 2016.

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

5 replies on “A Land Art Memorial 30 Years in the Making Opens in Italy”

  1. The Cretto at Gibellina has been open for decades…Gibellina nuova is not seven miles from the old town…Hyperallergic, you are great and I love you but this sloppy writing is not up to your standards.

    1. Hi Radicchio, my understanding is that the Cretto was only recently completed. It was officially inaugurated on Saturday, October 17.

      Also, everything I’ve read claims that it’s seven miles from the old city to the new one. If you route it on Google Maps it comes up to be a little over six miles. Do you have a more accurate distance you could point me toward?

      1. Hi Laura,

        If you read carefully the source you quote you will see that it gives the more accurate distance of 20 kilometers, which turns out to be 12.427 miles.

        It is true that the Cretto was “completed” recently, but a quick look online will show you that it means that a only a very small part indeed was added to the whole work, which has been open and visitable in its majestic and impressive grandeur since the end of the 1980s.

        For your information, the question of the distance between the old town and the new one is a very sore point, and it has been the cause of many debates which cannot be summarised here.

  2. This is interesting, but something doesn’t add up. 64,500 square feet of concrete is roughly an acre-and-a-half.

    Judging by the pictures, it appears the area covered is much larger than this. Was something “lost in translation”? The article that Laura links to below seems to refer to something much larger (this is what my “translate” button returned as one sentence in the article): “The yard completion ended in May, integrating up to 66 thousand square meters 86 thousand provided in the original plan.”

    So, is this a giant pile of concrete poured over the ruins of a city, or a scaled down version of the city streets and blocks built over the area where the debris from the damage was buried? A little more information and clarity would be helpful in understanding the scale of the project.

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