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Rome Gets An Incredible New Public Sculpture

Artist Giuseppe Penone and Fendi teamed up to build the impressive new work.
IMAGE STEFANO GUINDANI PHOTO / COURTESY FENDI
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It’s been quite a year for Giuseppe Penone. The 70-year-old Italian artist, who is most closely associated with the Arte Povera movement, started 2017 with Matrice, the inaugural exhibition at Rome’s Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. This historic building serves as the headquarters for Fendi—which placed work from different eras in his career alongside pieces made especially for the exhibit. Next up is another first: the first-ever permanent public contemporary art installation in Rome.

His Foglie di pietra (“Leaves of Stone”) was unveiled on May 22 at the Eternal City’s Largo Goldini, and it’s a project the artist says allowed him to expand his lifelong interest in trees.

“Since the first years and my first works, in 1968, I started working in relation with nature and the growth of trees,” he explains. “All of my works were developed starting from this first piece, from the relationship between man and what surrounds him and the change that a presence can create on the things that surround him and, vice versa, how the change of things that surround the man can influence a person.”

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Giuseppe Penone's Foglie di Pietra

This particular bronze and marble piece—selected by a jury consisting of New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni, the Italian Ministry of Culture, the City of Rome, and Fendi—drew a parallel between trees and the human experience.

“The fragility that you can find in a small tree branch is the same fragility of our existence,” Penone explains. “Every tree has its own beauty because every shape of the tree is built for necessity: There is a logic, the logic of life, that makes aesthetically pleasing the shape of being. The same happens with people. Every person is beautiful, but you can try and establish some standards or rules.”

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Giuseppe Penone's Foglie di Pietra

The result, Penone says, is something that’s not only breathtaking but also thought-provoking. “If you search for beauty as a purpose, you don’t produce interesting art,” he says. “Beauty is the consequence of a thought, not a consequence of substance or of shape.”

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