Research - Arte Povera / by Ally McGinn

An Italian art movement, prominent in the late 60’s and 70’s that reaffirmed that anything could and should be used as art. Characterised by the subversion of process and non-traditional everyday materials. Translated as ‘poor art,’ (Lumley, 2004) the term describes a step away from traditional materials into those considered ‘poor’ including soil, rubbish, and twigs. (Lumley, 2004) The use of materials considered traditionally non-art disrupts the commercial system of the art market found in the contemporary gallery.

Germano Celant, an Italian art critic, and curator coined the term in 1967. To him, the term doesn’t refer to cheap materials, but a break from tradition. He wrote a series of tests and curated exhibitions that established a collective identity that began in cities across Italy as it was seized in the grip of economic instability. (Lumley, 2004)

Works of Arte Povera vary in scale and media but were united in context. The use of ‘poor’ materials was a direct contrast to our increasing dependence on and habitual use of technology. (Lumley, 2004)

 Jannis Kounellis (1968)  Untitled.  Wood and wool. 

Jannis Kounellis (1968) Untitled. Wood and wool. 

The primary period of production for Arte Povera was between 1967 and 1972. (Christov-Bakargiev, 2005) It has been called Italy’s contribution to conceptual art. (Christov-Bakargiev, 2005) The influence of Arte Povera has continued to current trends, I can certainly say I am following a similar thread.

In the late 60’s sculptors began emphasising the process of making and materials natural properties. (Christov-Bakargiev, 2005) Developing from the Modernists definition of the purity of media this can be seen as a natural progression in the collective exploration of the nature of art. The use of everyday materials continued, they were often malleable, volatile or elastic and the artists allow the materials to act as they would when certain circumstances are applied. (ie; gravity, electricity and magnetism) (Christov-Bakargiev, 2005)

In this way, Arte Povera artworks are marked by evidence of their own making.

Works that speak about materials in this way distort ideas about traditional value in art. Many changed appearance when shown in different galleries or would need to be remade each time. (Christov-Bakargiev, 2005) These works became interlinked with their immediate surroundings, drawing the viewers attention to the architecture of the gallery and the space of the work.

Changing physical states typify the work, (Christov-Bakargiev, 2005) not trying to represent anything other than themselves and their transformations.

"What was interesting about Arte Povera was that there was an international network of artists immediately speaking to each other, who could understand that in the turmoil of the late 60s the ways in which art-making could be transformed was something that they shared and were united in questioning," said Matthew Gale, head of displays at the Tate about a long-term exhibition of Arte Povera at Tate Modern. (Walker, 2009)

The interrogation of what art is, through a challenge of its boundaries, is still ongoing in contemporary explorations. Questioning the nature of art can be seen as the foundation of all contemporary art.

In a Guardian article about the exhibition at Tate, the writer describes Arte Povera works as “appear[ing] just the sort of thing, if included in a modern Turner prize shortlist, to set off a fresh outbreak of "is this art?" consternation in the press.” (Walker, 2009)

 Michelangelo Pistoletto (1967, 1974)  Venus of the Rags.  Marble and textiles.

Michelangelo Pistoletto (1967, 1974) Venus of the Rags. Marble and textiles.

A similar form can be seen in Lynda Benglis’s ‘Quartered Meteor’ from 1969. (Christov-Bakargiev, 2005)

 Linda Benglis ( 1969, cast 1975)  Quartered Meteor.  Lead and steel on steel base.

Linda Benglis ( 1969, cast 1975) Quartered Meteor. Lead and steel on steel base.

Reflection

These artists continued to develop the use of the everyday, into a challenging form that questioned our assumptions and preconceptions about these materials. The use of ‘poor’ or unwanted materials the artworks questions, transforms and extends their purpose.

Bibliography

Christov-Bakargiev, C. ed. (2005) Arte Povera. London : Phaidon.

Lumley, R. (2004) Arte Povera. London : Tate Publishing.

Walker, P. (2009) ‘Rich vein of poor art - Tate Modern revisits influence of Arte Povera’, ‘The Guardian’, [Online] Avaialible from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/may/18/tate-modern-sixties-arte-povera [Accessed 03.12.17].