Arte Povera

Poor art (Italian: Arte Povera) is an artistic movement emerged in Italy in the second half of the 1960s, to which authors adhered to the predominantly field turinés. It was named after Germano Celant, because humble and poor materials, generally non-industrial (plants, canvas sacks, fats, ropes, earth, logs) are used for its creation. These materials are valued mainly in their changes, since as they deteriorate, they transform the work.

Arte Povera is a contemporary art movement. The Arte Povera movement took place between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s in major cities throughout Italy and above all in Turin. Other cities where the movement was also important are Milan, Rome, Genoa, Venice, Naples and Bologna. The term was coined by Italian art critic Germano Celant in 1967 and introduced in Italy during the period of upheaval at the end of the 1960s, when artists were taking a radical stance. Artists began attacking the values of established institutions of government, industry, and culture.

Mario Merz stands out among the Italian artists who have practiced this art. His works start from a very elementary structural law, that of the medieval mathematician Fibonacci, for whom development derived not from the simple succession of numbers, but from the progression in which each number results from the sum of the two preceding ones. This mathematical progression is the one published by Merz in any of his works, be they objects, spaces, vegetables, etc. For example, the arrangement of newspaper packages on the floor, with Fibonacci numbers made in neonor group of fruits and vegetables scattered on the ground, which deteriorate as happens with other natural phenomena, or the making of an igloo covered by a neon structure, where the series of Fibonacci numbers appears, etc.

The exhibition “Im Spazio” (The Space of Thoughts), curated by Celant and held at the Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa, Italy, from September through October 1967, is often considered to be the official starting point of Arte Povera. Celant, who became one of Arte Povera’s major proponents, organized two exhibitions in 1967 and 1968, followed by an influential book published by Electa in 1985 called Arte Povera Storie e protagonisti/Arte Povera. Histories and Protagonists, promoting the notion of a revolutionary art, free of convention, the power of structure, and the market place.

Although Celant attempted to encompass the radical elements of the entire international scene, the term properly centered on a group of Italian artists who attacked the corporate mentality with an art of unconventional materials and style. Key figures closely associated with the movement are Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Enrico Castellani, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Giulio Paolini, Pino Pascali, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Emilio Prini, and Gilberto Zorio. They often used found objects in their works. Other early exponents of radical change in the visual arts include proto Arte Povera artists: Antoni Tàpies and the Dau al Set movement, Alberto Burri, Piero Manzoni, and Lucio Fontana and Spatialism. Art dealer Ileana Sonnabend was a champion of the movement.

Also noteworthy are: Jannis Kounellis, Luciano Fabro, Richard Serra; and among the Germans Joseph Beuys (1921-1985). The latter’s preferred material was fat, with which it made enigmatic objects or coated others, in which the expressive value of the material itself stood out mainly. In the 1960s (1960), together with another German artist, Wolf Vostell, and the Viennese of the Fluxus group, Beuys carried out countless Happenings in which his marked nonconformity was evident.

The term arte povera (from Italian poor art) is a trend released in the late 1960s, whose creators use materials considered poor, very easy to obtain, such as wood, leaves or rocks, tableware, lead plates or glass, vegetables, cloth, coal or clay, or also waste materials, and therefore were worthless.

In an effort to flee from the commercialization of the artistic object, they occupy the space and demand the intervention of the public. They try to provoke a reflection between the object and its shape, through the manipulation of the material and the observation of its specific qualities. A typical artist is Mario Merz (b. 1925), famous for his igloos, (hemispherical structures made of different materials), for example his work Do We Go Around Houses, or Do Houses Go Around Us? (1977/85).

Arte povera rejected the icons of the mass media and reductive images, as well as the industrial ones of pop art and minimalism. It proposes a model of operational extremism based on marginal and poor values. It uses a high degree of creativity and spontaneity and implies a recovery of inspiration, energy, pleasure and illusion turned into utopia. Arte povera prefers direct contact with materials without any cultural significance, materials that do not matter their origin or use, that are reused or transformed by the artist.

Coined by the Italian art critic and curator Germano Celant in 1967 for the catalog of the exhibition ‘Arte povera – Im Spazio’, it tried to describe the trend of a new generation of Italian artists to work with non-traditional materials and was a very important aesthetic reflection on the relationships between the material, the work and its manufacturing process and also a clear rejection of the growing industrialization, metallization and mechanization of the world around them, including that of art. Although originating from cities such as Turin, Milan, Genoa orRome and of a very heterogeneous character, the movement immediately had a great influence, thanks to the documenta V in Kassel, in the European and American artistic scenes.

The term was first used in a Venetian exhibition in 1967. The artist from Povera assumed a new attitude, where he took possession of a reality that is the true meaning of his being. He proposed an inventive and antidogmatic way of life. The artist povera had to work on things in the world, produce magical facts, discover roots of events based on materials and principles given in nature. It does not express judgments about its environment. Arte Povera is also considered by the artist as an extension of his body and soul, connecting directly with the environment, nature and everything around him, entering into harmony. His works, although unconventional, have great harmony and unique style, given by the unusual materials with which he works.

A return to simple objects and messages
The body and behavior are art
The everyday becomes meaningful
Traces of nature and industry appear
Dynamism and energy are embodied in the work
Nature can be documented in its physical and chemical transformation
Explore the notion of space and language
Complex and symbolic signs lose meaning
Ground Zero, no culture, no art system, Art = Life

A first gathering of the new movement occurs in September 1967 in the homonymous exhibition, curated by Germano Celant, which takes place at the Galleria La Bertesca by Francesco Masnata in Genoa, where Boetti, Fabro, Kounellis, Paolini, Pascali and Prini exhibit. Arte Povera is still defined by Celant in an article published in n. 5 of Flash Art of the same year, in the 1968 Arte povera exhibition at the Galleria de ‘Foscherari in Bologna with Anselmo, Boetti, Ceroli, Fabro, Kounellis, Merz, Paolini, Pascali, Piacentino, Pistoletto, Prini, Zorio, who will still be exhibiting together in Trieste at the Centro Arte Viva-Feltrinelli, where Gilardi will be added, finally in the Arte Povera – Poor Actions event in the Arsenals of Amalfi.

The reference to a poor art such as asystematic guerrilla highlighted by Celant in the article on Flash Art is accepted thanks to the international recognition, however firmly pursued. The international consecration took place in 1969 with the exhibition of poor art and conceptual art When attitudes become form organized by Szeemann at the Kunsthalle in Bern (which includes Boetti, Calzolari, Kounellis, Merz, Pascali, Pistoletto, Prini and Zorio) and when it comes out the volume of Celant Arte povera exemplified the following year in the exhibition Conceptual art arte povera land art organized at the Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Turin.

Other exponents of the movement besides those already mentioned were Claudio Cintoli, Sergio Lombardo, Gino Marotta, Fabio Mauri, Giuseppe Penone, Cesare Tacchi, Renato Mambor.

Works and poetic
The movement was born in open controversy with traditional art, of which it refuses techniques and supports to make use, in fact, of “poor” materials such as earth, wood, iron, rags, plastic, industrial waste, with the aim of evoking the original structures of the language of contemporary society after having corroded semantic habits and conformisms. Another feature of the work of the movement artists is the use of the form of the installation, as a place of the relationship between the work and the environment, and that of the performative “action”. Germano Celant, which borrows the name of the movement from the theater ofJerzy Grotowski says that poor art essentially manifests itself “in reducing to the minimum terms, in impoverishing the signs, to reducing them to their archetypes”. Most of the group’s artists show an explicit interest in the materials used while some – especially Alighiero Boetti and Giulio Paolini – have a more conceptual bent from the outset.

Poor art is part of the panorama of artistic research of the time due to the significant consonances that it shows not only with respect to conceptual art proper, which in those years saw the star of Joseph Beuys rise, but also with respect to experiences like pop, minimal and Land Art (Richard Long).

The goal of these artists was to overcome the traditional idea that the work of art occupies a super-temporal and transcendent level of reality. For this reason, the provocation that derives from the work of Giovanni Anselmo Sculpture that eats (1968, Sonnabend collection, New York) is important, formed by two blocks of stone that crush a head of lettuce, a vegetable whose inevitable fate is to perish.. The use of living objects is frequent, as in Kounellis, who fixed a real parrot on a painted canvas, demonstrating that nature has more colors than any pictorial work.

Another criticism brought forward by the artists of Arte Povera was that against the conception of the uniqueness and unrepeatability of the work of art: Mimesis, by Paolini, consists of two identical plaster casts representing a sculpture of the classical age, placed facing each other for the purpose of pretending a conversation.

During the Vietnam War, Arte Povera approached the protest movements against the US intervention: Pistoletto’s work Vietnam (1965, Menil collection, Houston) depicts a group of pacifist demonstrators, represented with fixed silhouettes to a mirror, so that visitors to the gallery were reflected in it. In this way, people became an integral part of the work itself, creating a sort of interaction between the artistic creation and the spectator audience.

The attention to the lifestyles of the many cultures other than the western one is present in Merz’s works: his many igloos, created with different materials (for example metal, glass, wood, etc.), point out the adaptability of a people to its certain environment.

Man-nature identification is one of the themes most dealt with by various artists. In Marotta and Gilardi (Orto, 1967), however, nature is revisited in an artificial key, as if to actualize the material and bring it closer to a feeling of epochal change that involves man and his perception of the world. Perception that is made uncertain in Pistoletto’s mirror paintings, which literally open up to the world by absorbing everything in front of it and changing as the environment that contains them changes.

On the contrary of these, the “screens” without image with which Mauri reproduces the cinematographic canvas and which will influence the first works of Mario Schifano. However, his creations sometimes open to the most popular daily reality (Casetta Objects Achetés, 1960), or to the most impressive news events (La luna, 1968), which will lead him to develop a profound reflection on art and history.

Many artists work on the idea of a stereotyped image, such as Ceroli (Si / No, 1963), which treats silhoutte taken from art history in a serial way, or sets of human figures multiplied or serialized with a technique that recalls bricolage. Lombardo’s “typical gestures” (typical gestures-Kennedy and Fanfani, 1963), the traces of images of Mambor or the rotogravure scenes or famous paintings revisited in colorful cloth by Tacchi are also considered stereotypes (Quadro per un mito, 1965).

Michelangelo Pistoletto began painting on mirrors in 1962, connecting painting with the constantly changing realities in which the work finds itself. In the later 1960s he began bringing together rags with casts of omnipresent classical statuary of Italy to break down the hierarchies of “art” and common things. An art of impoverished materials is certainly one aspect of the definition of Arte Povera. In his 1967 Muretto di Stracci (Rag Wall), Pistoletto makes an exotic and opulent tapestry wrapping common bricks in discarded scraps of fabric.

Jannis Kounellis and Mario Merz attempted to make the experience of art more immediately real while also more closely connecting the individual to nature. In his (Untitled /Twelve Horses), Kounellis brings the real, natural life into the gallery setting, by showing twelve horses racked-up on the gallery walls. Recalling the Dada movement and Marcel Duchamp, his aim was to challenge what could be defined as art, but unlike Duchamp, maintains the objects real and alive, redefining the notion of life and art, while keeping both entities independent.

The ‘reality effect’ is not secondary but constitutive.(…)Kounellis shifts the frontier of what can be defined as art, but there is never the idea that art should be dissolved into life. On the contrary, art is given a new message as a rite of initiation through which to re-experience life.

Piero Gilardi, much like the aim of Arte Povera itself, was concerned with bridging the natural and the artificial. In his (Nature Carpets), 1965, which gained him recognition and assimilation into the Arte Povera movement, Gilardi built three-dimensional carpets out of polyurethane which used “natural” leaves, rocks, and soil as decoration, design and art meshed together to question societal sensibilities towards what is real and natural and how artificiality was being engrained into the contemporary commercialized world.

Giovanni Anselmo (1934-), Italian sculptor.
Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994), Italian artist.
Ferruccio Bortoluzzi (1920-2007), Italian artist.
Pier Paolo Calzolari (1943-), Italian artist.
Enrico Castellani (1930-2017), Italian painter.
Rossella Cosentino
Luciano Fabro (1936-2007), painter and sculptor.
Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), Argentine painter and sculptor.
Piero Gilardi (1942-), Italian sculptor.
Jannis Kounellis (1936-2017), Greek painter and sculptor.
Mario Merz (1925-2003), Italian artist, painter and sculptor.
Marisa Merz (1931-2019), Italian artist.
Piero Manzoni (1933-1963), Italian artist.
Giulio Paolini (1940-), Italian sculptor and painter.
Claudio Parmiggiani (1943-), Italian artist.
Pino Pascali (1935-1968), Italian artist.
Giuseppe Penone (1947-), Italian artist and sculptor.
Michelangelo Pistoletto (1933-), Italian artist, painter and sculptor.
Azar Salman
Edoardo Tresoldi (1987-), Italian scenographer sculptor.
Gilberto Zorio (it)

Art market
For a long time, the works of arte povera have escaped the logic of the market. Indeed, refusing to consider the work of art as a “product”, their authors did not hesitate to create ephemeral works, or else they used materials deemed to be “poor” such as earth, fabric, plants, etc. However, the adventure ended short before the mid -1970s, many of the group’s artists then adopting individual approaches.

The povera art is not an art of easy access: the conservation of certain pieces requires great attention; others, which are in the form of installations, can obviously only take place in suitable interiors.

However, large American institutions and collectors are starting to take a close interest in this current after having put it aside for a long time.

Although related to conceptual art practiced in other countries – in the United States, it was notably the result of pop and minimalist experiences, happening and underground cinema – arte povera proper produced works of indisputable individuality.

The first exhibition ” Arte povera in spazio ” by arte povera which took place at the La Bertesca gallery in Genoa in 1967 was followed by many other events, both in Europe and in the United States.

Arte povera uses poor products (hence its name): sand, rags, earth, wood, tar, rope, burlap, used clothing, etc. and positions them as artistic elements of composition. However, some works, like Mario Merz Igloo di Giap use more sophisticated materials such as neon lights.

The “poverty” could then be that of the artist who uses light means which ensure his independence vis-à-vis the economy and cultural institutions.

We have also seen in the use of the word “poor” a Christian reference to asceticism and Franciscan renunciation because we find in the works of arte povera a spiritual materialism, a revelation of the mystery of existence in the objects most banal, the most insignificant, the most everyday.

The term Poor was also interpreted in a political sense because the artists of arte povera adopted radical and marginal positions, close in the mentality of the protest movements of 1968.