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Arte Povera

Arte Povera Collage

Started: 1962

Ended: 1972

"The difficulty of knowledge, or of taking possession of things, is enormous: conditioning prevents us from seeing a pavement, a corner, or a daily space, and Fabro re-proposes the rediscovery of a pavement, a corner, or the axis that unites the floor and ceiling of a room. He's not worried about satisfying the system, and intends instead to disembowel it."

Germano Celant

Summary of Arte Povera

Arte Povera - the Italian phrase for "poor art" or "impoverished art" - was one of the most significant and influential avant-garde movements to emerge in Southern Europe in the late 1960s. It included the work of around a dozen Italian artists whose most distinctly recognizable trait was their use of commonplace materials that evoked a pre-industrial age, such as earth, rocks, clothing, paper and rope: literally 'poor' or cheap materials that they repurposed for their practice. These practices presented a challenge to established notions of value and propriety, as well as subtly critiquing the industrialization and mechanization of Italy at the time.

Their work marked a reaction against the modernist abstract painting that had dominated European art in the 1950s, which they distinguished themselves from by focusing on the sculptural work rather than painting. The group also rejected American Minimalism, and in particular what they perceived as its enthusiasm for technology and dominance over the art world. Whilst in this respect Arte Povera echoes Post-Minimalist tendencies in American art of the 1960s in its opposition to modernism and technology, its evocations of the past, locality and memory have distinctly Italian aesthetic and strategic characteristics.

Key Ideas

Some of the group's most memorable work comes from the contrast of unprocessed materials with references to the emergence of consumer culture. Believing that modernity threatened to erase collective memory and tradition (key aspects of Italian cultural heritage) Arte Povera sought to contrast the new with the old in order to complicate it's audience's sense of passing time.
In addition to opposing the technological preoccupation of American Minimalism, artists associated with Arte Povera rejected what they perceived as its scientific rationalism. In direct contrast to its methodical and almost clinical approach to spatial relations, they conjured a world of myth whose mysteries couldn't be easily explained.
Artists presented absurd, jarring and comical juxtapositions, often of the new and the old or the highly processed and the pre-industrial. By doing so, they evoked some of the effects of modernization, with its tendency to destroy experiences of locality and memory as it pushed ever forwards into the future.
Arte Povera's interest in "poor" materials can be related to several other artistic movements of the 1950s and 1960s. The artists grouped under the term shared some techniques and strategies with movements like Fluxus and Nouveau Realisme in their combination of easily accessible materials with mischievous and rebellious subversions of their usual function. Germano Celant, whose critical practice shaped the definition of the movement, regularly placed Arte Povera in dialogue with these movements.
Arte Povera is most often related Assemblage, an international trend that used similar materials. Both movements marked a reaction against the abstract painting that was perceived as dominating art in the period. This abstract work was viewed as too narrowly concerned with emotion and individual expression, and too confined by the traditions of painting. Arte Povera proposed an artistic practice that was much more interested in materiality and physicality and borrowed forms and materials from everyday life. Arte Povera can be distinguished most from Assemblage by its interest in modes such as performance and installation, approaches that had more in common with pre-war avant-gardes such as Surrealism, Dada and Constructivism.
Arte Povera Image

Saying, "I chose to use poor materials to prove that they could still be useful. The poorness of a medium is not a symbol: it is a device for painting," Alberto Sacchi turned to art while he was in a prison of war camp in 1944. His first works were made of burlap bags, and his series of Sacchi (Sacks) pioneered Arte Povera.

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