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Arte Povera Artworks

Arte Povera Collage

Started: 1962

Ended: 1972

Artworks and Artists of Arte Povera

The below artworks are the most important in Arte Povera - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Arte Povera. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Floor Tautology (1967)

By: Luciano Fabro

By the time he joined the Arte Povera group, Luciano Fabro was already a well-known artist associated with the likes of Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana, two important precursors of the movement. His Floor Tautology involves an area of floor, kept polished and covered with newspapers to dry. Shown in Germano Celant's first survey of Arte Povera, Fabro's celebration of an ordinary task was instrumental in his attempt to recalibrate the concept of fine art. The elevation of a duty associated with housework - and most often coded as women's work - became a theme in his later pieces that utilized bed sheets and other fabrics.

Untitled (1968)

By: Giovanni Anselmo

Giovanni Anselmo worked as a graphic designer, and began to experiment with the arts in his spare time. One of his first installations, which involved thin metal rods vertically attached to pieces of wood, suggested his fascination with the effects of nature upon inanimate objects. Similarly, Untitled (sometimes referred to as Eating Structure) comprises a small block of granite attached to a larger, plinth-like block by means of a head of lettuce and a length of wire. If the lettuce is allowed to dry out, the smaller block will fall, therefore the sculpture has to be regularly "fed" with lettuces to maintain its structure. Its concern with balance and gravity echoes some of the interests of American Post-Minimal art, though its comic tone, and its use of such mundane materials as a head of lettuce, is typical of Arte Povera's evocation of poor and rural life.

Artist's Shit (no. 4) (1961)

By: Piero Manzoni

Piero Manzoni began his artistic career as a self-taught painter. As his style evolved, he continually questioned traditional methods and interpretations of art. While Manzoni is not considered a true member of the Arte Povera group (more of a precursor), his work reflects the principles of the movement. Supposedly containing 30 grams of excrement, Manzoni's Artist's Shit reprises such famous avant-garde provocations as Marcel Duchamp's presentation of a urinal as a work of art, in Fountain (1917). Ninety cans were produced, canned and labeled in an identical manner, mocking the practices of mass production and consumption, and satirizing the reverence usually accorded to artist's work.

Giap's Igloo (1968)

By: Mario Merz

Mario Merz held the distinction of being the oldest of the Arte Povera artists; he was also married to the group's only female member, Marisa Merz. Already established as a painter in an Abstract Expressionist style, Arte Povera provided him with the opportunity to start his career anew. In the first of his signature igloos, Merz uses a phrase taken from a Vietnamese military general: "Se il nemico si concentra perde terreno se si disperde perde forza" ("If the enemy masses his forces, he loses ground; if he scatters, he loses strength"). Merz's igloos provide a focus for his preoccupation with the necessities of life - shelter, warmth, and food - though, as here, they also often contain neon tubes that suggest more sophisticated and modern experiences, such as those of advertising and consumption.

32 Square Meters of Sea (1967)

By: Pino Pascali

Pino Pascali started out as a designer and illustrator for advertisements, and learned to push the boundaries between illusion and reality. Similar to his Cubic Meters of Earth pieces, Pascali's 32 Square Meters of Sea brings together the natural and artificial. Containers hold quantities of dyed water that replicate the variegated tints of the ocean, alluding to the effects of motion and light. Yet the containers themselves also remind us of how humanity attempts to control nature. The geometric shapes and industrial materials used to produce the sculpture echo American Minimalist sculpture, though Pascali's use of a simple, natural material such as water betrays its origins in the concerns of Arte Povera. To Pascali, the poverty of the materials was essential to the artistic process: "We need the intensity of someone who has nothing, to be truly able to create something."

Structure for Talking While Standing (Minus Objects) (1965-66)

By: Michelangelo Pistoletto

Pistoletto's work often dealt with relationships . His earlier mirror works, which confronted self and image, explored concepts of identity. The Minus Objects series was developed around the idea of art that was only completed through the addition of human interaction. In this example, we can see how the structure connects to the viewer, allowing for a place to rest the arms and feet. Dialogue was also a concern to the artist, and Structure for Standing While Talking creates a bridge for conversation among visitors. Pistoletto originally conceived the idea after noticing marks left on the gallery walls where people had been leaning.

Related Movements and Major Works

Merzpicture 46A. The Skittle Picture (1921)

Merzpicture 46A. The Skittle Picture (1921)

Movement: Dada

Movement: Dada (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Kurt Schwitters (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This is an early example of assemblage in which two and three dimensional objects are combined. The word "Merz," which Schwitters used to describe his art practice as well as his individual pieces, is a nonsensical word, like Dada, that Schwitters culled from the word "commerz", the meaning of which he described as follows: "In the war, things were in terrible turmoil. What I had learned at the academy was of no use to me.... Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz". In his Merzpictures, which have been called "psychological collages," he arranged found objects - usually detritus - in simple compositions that transformed trash into beautiful works of art. Whether the materials were string, a ticket stub, or a chess piece, Schwitters considered them to be equal with any traditional art material. Merz, however, is not ideological, dogmatic, hostile, or political as is much of Dada art.

The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, (Window or Wall Sign) (1967)

Movement: Post-Minimalism

Movement: Post-Minimalism (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Bruce Nauman (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This seminal work was created in the studio Nauman established in an abandoned grocery store in San Francisco and modeled after the neon advertisement signs nearby. It acts as an advertisement of a different kind. Its colorful, circular text proclaims the words of the title: "The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths." It is characteristic of Nauman's early neon works, and typical of the tone of dry satire in much of his oeuvre. Commenting on high art in the materials of low culture and advertising, it sets up a clash that questions old assumptions about the purpose of art and artists, like are artists just ordinary salesmen? One might say that the piece is Post-Minimalist simply by virtue of standing at the borders of so many different styles and approaches of the period, borrowing from Pop art's interest in advertising, and Conceptual art's interest in language.

Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977)

Movement: Conceptual Art

Movement: Conceptual Art (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Walter de Maria (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

The idea underlying this piece was the creation of an actual yet invisible work of art. With the help of an industrial drill, de Maria dug a narrow hole in the ground exactly one kilometer deep, inserted a two-inch diameter brass rod of the same length, then concealed it with a sandstone plate. A small hole was cut in the plate's center to reveal a small portion of the rod, which is perfectly level with the ground. The result is a permanent work of art that people are forced to imagine but may never actually see. As a complementary piece to Vertical Earth Kilometer, de Maria created the far more visible Broken Kilometer (1979), which consisted of five hundred two-meter-long brass rods, neatly arranged on an exhibition floor space in five parallel rows of one hundred rods each. In keeping with Conceptual artists' dispensation of traditional materials and formal concerns, this work defies the marketplace: it can't be sold or entirely exhibited. Further, its simplicity and largely concealed quality makes it anti-expressive and consistent with the period's many paradoxical negations of the visual in "visual art."

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