white ceramic disk painted with thin, gray concentric circles and a gray fingerprint at center

This exhibition presents eleven disks produced by the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone (b. 1947) in collaboration with the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory in France. A leading protagonist of the Italian art movement Arte Povera, Penone is celebrated for his investigation of the relationship between art and nature and, more particularly, for his large-scale hollowed tree trunks. Wood, water, rocks, thorns, and even potatoes feature prominently in his oeuvre, as well as more conventional materials such as bronze and clay.

Presented for the first time, the eleven disks are part of a series of works initiated in 1995 and collectively called Propagazioni (Propagations). Technical tours de force, these porcelain disks—Penone’s first work in this medium—are among the largest pieces ever produced at Sèvres. Each one features a fingerprint—of one of the artist’s ten fingers—from which the artist has drawn concentric lines that ripple, or propagate, across the surface. The eleventh disk, in gold, is a variation on the fingerprint of the artist’s right index finger.

large disk on wall, adjacent to the porcelain gallery at Frick Madison
Gallery view of Propagazioni: Giuseppe Penone at Sèvres, adjacent to the porcelain gallery at Frick Madison. Photo: Joseph Coscia Jr.

Rewarding close and prolonged viewing, the disks evoke water ripples or the annual growth rings of a tree or even body parts such as eyes and breasts. Literally centered on touch, these works point to the reciprocity of touch in general and specifically in sculpture: the artist’s hand reshapes the material but is also reshaped by it. As an index of the painstaking process by which he drew them, the artist’s lines make time itself visible, functioning as a temporal measuring tape of sorts.

In their formal simplicity, Penone’s disks achieve a universal language of art that draws attention to the degree of mental activity involved in the gestures of marking, seeing, and touching.

five disks on wall and bench in gallery
Gallery view of Propagazioni: Giuseppe Penone at Sèvres, on display at Frick Madison. Photo: Joseph Coscia Jr.

Giuseppe Penone, Propagazione di Sèvres—anulare destro (Sèvres Propagation—right ring finger), 2013. Metal-oxide paint on Sèvres porcelain, diam. 26 3/4 in. (68 cm), depth 2 3/8 in. (6 cm). Courtesy the artist. © Archivio Penone

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