Enrico Donati Centennial Retrospective at Weinstein Gallery

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Several years ago, I had the delightful pleasure of meeting the Surrealist artist Enrico Donati (February 19, 1909 – April 25, 2008). I even acquired one of his abstract pieces. Donati was a contemporary of Duchamp and Breton, but continued creating artwork beyond his Surrealist training into a Constructivist phase in the 1940s and a Spatialism period. Working with surface and texture and combining color with media like dirt and soot, Donati finished his life with an expansive collection of work that is vibrant and tactile in its expanse and breadth. There are monstrously large pieces that are frightening black and gray, decrying depths of destruction and decay. And then there are gorgeously vibrant works of red and teal and orange, but juxtaposed with ground earth tones gravel with textures and shapes.

Walking by Weinstein Gallery on Union Square in San Francisco this gorgeous, sunny afternoon, I sauntered in and was taken aback by the expansive collection on display. I knew they were preparing for Centennial Retrospective, but I was not prepared for how expansive and impressive the entire collection was. Donati passed away shortly after my meeting and there were dozens of paintings which had been in his private collection and had not been seen which is now available, not only for public viewing but also for purchase (in the $25k to $300k range).

Wandering around the three floors of Donati pictures, I was surprised to be completely taken aback by one particular piece. Here I was – among dozens of paintings with shapes invoking urns and monoliths, boulders and conch shells – with a particular piece of two orange walls facing each other, one orange wall with a window, cradling a suspended boulder shape and opposite that, a larger wall with a perpendicular post providing stability and strength. An endless gray sky provides the infinite space behind the stalwart monoliths and a glow below the edifices reflect the magnitude above. What was it about this piece that struck me? I didn’t know, but I sat for nearly 15 minutes, enraptured. I mentioned as such to Travis, who helped me with my acquisition several years ago, and he enlightened me. Take a look at this Max Ernst painting, created two years into the Surrealist movement about when Donati would have met with that brethren.

Donati's Dialogue of Carcassonne II, 1978 Virgin Spanking the Christ Child Before Three Witnesses, 1926
Donati’s Dialogue of Carcassonne II, 1978 Virgin Spanking the Christ Child Before Three Witnesses, 1926

Note the two walls, their relation to one another and on the right-hand wall, the sturdy post which stands in the interior, with the shadow cast diagonally across. View the cut-out window in the left-hand wall with its perspective. And look at the shape of the Madonna’s back, bent over in its act of corporal punishment. It is the same shape as the suspended boulder in the Donati. Enrico Donati has taken Ernst’s basic shapes and transformed them into a powerful statement of force and existence, alluding to its religious progeny.

Weinstein has a number of galleries in and around Union Square, but their main establishment is at 383 Geary Street. Hitchcock fans will note this is famous for being the first opening scene in The Birds building that Tippi Hendren walks by after she has crossed the street is where Weinstein now stands. I suppose that is just another reason I love this gallery.

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