Interview: Bettina Werner's Pioneering Use of Salt in Art

February 13, 2018 5:00 PM

Being an artist isn’t just a matter of creating paintings or sculptures in a particular medium, it’s about making your mark on history. In the annals of contemporary art, there is an indelible handprint—in salt— made by internationally acclaimed painter and sculptor Bettina Werner. A graduate of the prestigious Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, Werner earned the moniker “Salt Queen” for her pioneering work with the medium, which she mastered in Italy thirty years ago. Her invention of the salt technique encompasses her creative use of texture, color, form and flow of the crystals.  Her unique salt artworks, have been exhibited in museums all over the world, including the Whitney in New York, the Pushkin in Moscow, and in galleries and public spaces such as the World Trade Center, where she held her 25 year retrospective exhibition.

Werner’s enthusiasm for her signature medium is infectious. She seasons our chat with references to the storied history of salt as a purifying force. By the windows in her art loft, which overlook the New York Stock Exchange, sit several large bowls of salt with her art candles. Halfway through our visit, I become aware of the subtle taste of salt on my tongue, recalling the breeze and the saltiness of the ocean, and the mineral-rich atmosphere, which one might commonly encounter in a hydrotherapy spa. 

Over the past few months, Bettina Werner has been engaged in creating a special Valentine’s season exhibit inspired by unconditional love and dedicated to her father Adolfo Werner Confalonieri, known affectionately as “Toffolo," who passed away in December. The show– titled  “Enlivening Red Velvet Heart” after one of her newly created works– will be on view from February 13th through March 3rd at the ABXY gallery on the Lower East Side. The artist gave TWELV a tour of her art loft and took a moment to reflect on her life and work.

Everybody knows you as “The Salt Queen,” and your body of work embraces salt as a primary medium. How did this come about? Did you go through a process of experimenting with other substances before you discovered salt when you were a student at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan?

Salt came into my mind as an intuitive thought, like something from another dimension. Of course, when I was in art school I did my assignments and worked with different materials, but I started creating with salt early on. I knew right away that it was the element I was looking for. I am very connected to the spiritual world because my twin sister was stillborn, and I feel she has always given me inspiration, guidance and protection. She is my angelic sister, and I treasure our birth-bond.  

Do you come from an artistic family?  

Not at all! I come from generations of attorneys: my father, grandfather, and my great grandfather. My father initially wanted me to follow in his footsteps, but he realized early on that I had my own artistic calling. 

Was your family supportive of your interest in art when you first began? 

My father was a traditional person, and didn’t really understand my passion. I am a free spirit, and this was hard for my family to acknowledge. I decided to go for it on my own as a young artist. Later in my maturity, I came to realize that his way of loving me was by allowing me my independence. It gave me the chance to become who I was meant to be. I am so grateful to him, and I am glad I got to tell him before he passed. 

Tell me about your journey to New York.

I came to New York by myself when I was 24. As the saying goes, “the salt on my skin was the only thing I carried with me from the old continent to the new.” I lived in SoHo, which was kind of rough around the edges in 1989, but I loved it because it was an artistic community. In my first year in New York, I was fortunate to get picked up by an established gallery that represented major artists—the Marisa del Re Gallery in the Fuller Building on 57th Street. It was such an exciting time in New York. 

I would assume that your formula for creating your salt artwork is unique and proprietary, but is there anything you can reveal to us about your techniques? 

My artworks are my children, and when you meet someone’s child, you usually don’t ask the parents how the child was made! I like to keep a sense of mystery surrounding my technique. But I will tell you that I work with my hands on the salt instead of using a brush. I like to have direct contact with the materials. If you look closely at some paintings, you can actually see my hands’ path of movement in the formation of the salt.

Some of your paintings are framed, while others are exposed to the elements. How does your salt and pigment formula hold up to the elements, especially your early pieces that are now more than half a century old? 

Salt is the fifth element, and it’s a rock. My work has held up very well over time because the technique is solid. Of course, water and humidity are the enemy of all paintings, so it is important to protect your art collection with proper climate control.

 I am really drawn to this large yellow painting near your table sculpture. What was your inspiration for it? 

It is called “Tibino in the Sun” and it was part of a series I created called “102 Salt Crystal Dalmatian Collection.” New York City was a lot rougher in the 1990s, so I decided to get a dog for protection. My Dalmation Tibino and I spent 14 years together and developed a very special bond. Tibino was my muse, and for many years I created these art works to celebrate our life together. He was my most loyal companion. 

Was this “We the People” painting one of the pieces you showed at your retrospective at 7 World Trade Center in 2010? 

Yes. When I was preparing to take the exam to become a U.S. citizen in 2010, I had to learn a lot of things about American history. I would test and tease my American friends to see how much they knew, and half the time they knew less than me. One of my favorite questions was “What are the first three word’s of our Constitution?” And the answer, of course, is “We the people.”

In 2002, you founded your nonprofit, The Salt Queen Foundation. What inspired you to go in that direction? 

I wanted to make sure that my art and my technique were protected, so one mission of the foundation is to maintain my archival records. I also wanted to support other artists who are using unusual techniques and innovative materials, and to inspire creativity in general. Years ago, we teamed up with Life Gate radio station in Italy to launch a music contest. We asked people to compose a song—of up to four minutes—that was inspired by salt. It was incredible to listen to what people sent us. They played the songs on the radio, and the winner got a $5,000 award. That was really great. I think we will do it again soon in the US. 

Your work has been exhibited at the most prestigious museums and galleries in The United States and Europe. What inspired you to partner with ABXY on the Lower East Side to show your latest work? 

When I was starting out in New York exhibiting at the Marisa del Re Gallery, I was always the youngest person in the room. Now, it’s time to embrace the younger generation. I know Allison [Barker, owner of ABXY] through Marlborough Gallery where she used to work. She is a brilliant writer and curator, with boundless energy and progressive taste, and now that she’s opened her own gallery, I’m excited to collaborate with her. The “Enlivening Red Velvet Heart” exhibit opens just before Valentine’s Day; it is both an homage to my father and a celebration of life and love reflected in the vibrant culture of lower Manhattan. 


Click to View: Bettina Werner-The Salt Queen: Selected Works. ©Bettina Werner.

Click to View: Bettina Werner-The Salt Queen: Art Home-Studio







related posts


PETER LINDBERGH is going to present his first solo photographs exhibition in Paris in more than a decade which is in association with Gagosian Gallery on September of this year.


September 24, 2014 7:01 PM  |  Art / Culture

HEDI SLIMANE “SONIC” OPENING -"Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent"

Counting down the days until Paris Fashion Week starts; it is arguably the biggest week for all fashionistas includes fashion editors, buyers, bloggers and photographers from all around the world...

September 23, 2014 5:00 PM  |  Art / Culture


“David Bowie Is” exhibition is coming to The Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago on September of this year.


September 18, 2014 5:27 PM  |  Art / Culture

HEDI SLIMANE EXHIBITION "Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent"

“SONIC” is an exhibition of photographs by HEDI SLIMANE, the creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, which will be held at the Foundation Pierre Bergé -Yves Saint Laurent in September 2014.

September 12, 2014 6:54 PM  |  Art / Culture


Since its beginnings in 1885, the Detroit Institute of Arts has grown to encompass multiple mediums of art, including American, European, Modern and Contemporary, and Graphic Art.

June 27, 2014 4:06 PM  |  Art / Culture


The Museum of Modern Art just announced that it will be doing a full retrospective exhibition of the artist Björk’s work in 2015.

June 23, 2014 6:17 PM  |  Art / Culture


He kept on apologizing when I was on my way to come see his apartment for the first time. 'I'm sorry. My room is such a mess don't look at it, okay?'.

June 09, 2014 4:49 PM  |  Art / Culture


On display in Brooklyn’s BUSHWICS Studio, “When Skies Become Grounds” offers negative prints of iconic landscapes.

June 04, 2014 5:05 PM  |  Art / Culture
Maria Lassnig, Der Tod und das Mädchen (Death and the Girl), 1999, Courtesy Friedrich Petzel Gallery


Austrian artist MARIA LASSNIG exhibition at MoMA's PS1 has been attracting herds of people as she focuses her art around "body-awareness." Known for being the first to employ this theory, it...

May 30, 2014 1:38 PM  |  Art / Culture


The corner of Madison Avenue and 77th Street is the home to the MARK HOTEL: one of New York’s most prestigious hotels, housed in a beautiful 1927 landmark buildings on the Upper East Side.

May 22, 2014 6:00 PM  |  Art / Culture


Last Thursday, May 14th, legendary Tunisian fashion designer AZZEDINE ALAÏA hosted an event at his art gallery celebrating Italian architect and designer ETTORE SOTTSASS' (1917-2007) comprehensive...

May 21, 2014 2:30 PM  |  Art / Culture
The Queen, Katherine Crockett; Photo by Matteo Prandoli for BFA

Queen Of The Night Casts Its Spell

At Queen of the Night, inhibitions drown in sudden dalliances. Upon entering the Diamond Horseshoe, a spell is cast as you descend the staircase.

March 03, 2014 2:10 PM  |  Art / Culture
Photo courtesy of Chama

Twelv Things We Learned at Super Bowl XLVIII

1. When you look good, you play good. The Seattle Seahawks dominated Super Bowl XLVIII in a lopsided 43-8 win over the Denver Broncos.

February 04, 2014 11:50 AM  |  Art / Culture


Super Bowl weekend has arrived and TWELV Magazine is collaborating with WTRMLN WTR for their pop-up store Saturday evening, February 1, from 7:00p.m. – 11:00 p.m. 

January 31, 2014 5:39 PM  |  Art / Culture
Art from Galleries in Wynwood, Photograph by Sarah Granetz


TWELV knew we couldn’t leave Art Basel without exploring the up-and-coming area of Wynwood, Miami.

December 10, 2013 12:58 PM  |  Art / Culture
"League," William de Koonig, 1964, Photograph by Sarah Granetz


For our third day at Art Basel, we figured it was time to visit Miami’s Convention Center where the majority of galleries were represented.

December 09, 2013 9:32 AM  |  Art / Culture
Brunch at The Webster Hotel, Photograph by Sarah Granetz


On TWELV’s second day at Art Basel, we brunched at The Webster Hotel for Oliver People’s presentation of Dennis Hopper’s iconic photographs.

December 07, 2013 1:12 PM  |  Art / Culture
Colette's Art Drive-Thru by Alchemist, Photograph by Sarah Granetz


Art Basel has been taking over Miami Beach since 2002 with its extravagant exhibitions and events, making it a go-to destination for art and culture lovers everywhere.

December 05, 2013 4:29 PM  |  Art / Culture
DJ Brendan Fallis : Image Courtesy BFA

2013 Metropolitan Museum of Art Apollo Circle Benefit

Last Thursday night, the bright young things of New York City ascended the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the 10th annual Apollo Circle Fund for Art Conservation Benefit.

November 19, 2013 5:07 PM  |  Art / Culture
Photo courtesy of Tina Wong Photography

Parnell Jones is Ninja

Here is a story of transformation, of a man born and bred in Harlem, who spent nights sleeping on park benches, who lost best friends through brutal violence but still persevered to become an...

November 19, 2013 2:51 PM  |  Art / Culture


W New York hosts a unique VIP pop-up casino experience from November 15-17 in collaboration with acclaimed visual artist Desi Santiago.

November 14, 2013 2:31 PM  |  Art / Culture
Ann Dexter Jones, Abdullah Qandeel: Image Courtesy of BFA

Open Versus Closed

Born in Saudi Arabia, educated in the United Kingdom, and now residing and working in New York City, 25 year old artist Abdullah Qandeel has burst onto the Manhattan art scene with his...

November 05, 2013 4:52 PM  |  Art / Culture
Aldo Sohm and Eric Ripert during the Live Auction, Photo Courtesy of City Harvest


Last week, City Harvest held its annual "Bid Against Hunger" event at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City.

October 25, 2013 1:27 PM  |  Art / Culture
Photo courtesy of Miguel Dominguez for NYCCulture/Style.Blogspot


“The innate energy to create - call it Zen”, Carter Smith explains as he folds up one of his large wall-size silk pieces dyed in black, a rich shade of olive, and every tone in between.

October 24, 2013 4:24 PM  |  Art / Culture
12th & C, 2010 etched acrylic on window pane, 36x40", $10,000

Below 14th Street by The Black Soft


September 18, 2013 2:57 PM  |  Art / Culture
Photo courtesy of Wataru Bob Shimosato of

Eri Wakiyama debuts ‘I see you’ exhibition with a tiny voice and a large crowd

Eri Wakiyama debuts her exhibition of illustrations that can only be described as quietly seductive. 

August 27, 2013 2:33 PM  |  Art / Culture
Photo By: Craig Giambrone


It’s hard to imagine putting the words elegant and graffiti in the same sentence, but there’s truly no other way to describe the recent mural installation done outside the highly...

August 22, 2013 2:35 PM  |  Art / Culture


Futo Akiyoshi applies the feuding emotions between want and need, domestic and workplace to his current exhibition A Faithful Antinomy on display at Longhouse Projects in Hudson Square....

August 01, 2013 12:35 PM  |  Art / Culture


Healthy, gorgeous, and fun, the Japanese culinary art of Kyaraben is sure to attract the more artistic foodies among us.

June 10, 2013 1:18 PM  |  Art / Culture
Roman Yee

Antagonist Movement

New York City can be a harsh reality for a 20-something with big dreams and a small bank account.

June 06, 2013 10:35 AM  |  Art / Culture
Photo by Tasha Tongpreecha

ROCK|THEM Blings the Lower East Side

ROX Gallery, an uber chic addition to LES art scene, held the ROCK|THEM opening reception on May 29, 2013.

June 05, 2013 1:49 PM  |  Art / Culture
Randy Mulder, Photograph by Roman Yee


On Friday May 31, 2013, Village Playback Theatre hosted its Spring Gala at Lincoln Center to honor its patrons, actors, colleagues, and clients with cocktails, a live auction, and an...

June 03, 2013 12:58 PM  |  Art / Culture
Mia Baxter, Far Out Far West, 20" x 20", 2012

UNICEF’s Next Generation Photo Benefit

On May 17, UNICEF hosted its 4th annual Next Generation Photo Benefit at the Milk Gallery presented by Serenity Pharmaceuticals.

May 20, 2013 3:54 PM  |  Art / Culture
Christo Vladimirov Javacheff

National Academy Museum Honors Christo Vladimirov Javacheff

The National Academy, which describes itself as “a lively community of artists, architects, educators, students, museum-goers, and those dedicated to the arts in America,” honored installation...

May 20, 2013 1:16 PM  |  Art / Culture
Photo by Tasha Tongpreecha


This week, Frieze Art Fair came back to New York to bring together 180 of the best international galleries for what The New York Times called a “hugely successful contemporary art extravaganza” on...

May 14, 2013 11:36 AM  |  Art / Culture
Photo by Guillaume Roemaet of Co-Founders Vivian Brodie and Dylan Brant

Y & S: Incubator for Young Artists

A foot in the door. That is what Y&S promises.

April 18, 2013 5:18 PM  |  Art / Culture


SITE BY: monocomplex©Marbles & Marbles International Inc. Drupal Development by: DivDiv, NYC
▲ back to top ▲