New Design

Arte Povera

Arte Povera Collage
Started: 1962
Ended: 1972
Main
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 & Accomplishments

Key Artists

Overview of Arte Povera

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.

Important Art and Artists of Arte Povera

Piero Manzoni: Artist's Shit (no. 4) (1961)

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

Artist: Piero Manzoni

Piero Manzoni began his artistic career as a self-taught painter, coming from an upper-class background and influenced profoundly by the avant-garde artistic practices that he was exposed to as a young man and his circle of friends. As his style evolved, he continually questioned traditional methods and interpretations of artistic practice. Manzoni is not usually considered a true member of the Arte Povera group but more of a precursor (as he died before the first exhibitions curated by Celant). His work nevertheless reflects the principles of the movement and was profoundly influential in putting Italian avant-garde practices on the map of the art world in the 1960s, a condition that allowed Arte Povera to emerge.

Manzoni's participation and profile within an international avant-garde of European artists (including peers like Yves Klein) focused attention on Italian artists and proved inspirational to those working in the country. His gregarious personality and flair of publicity helped provoke an interest in Italian artistic practices amongst the art world. Whilst Manzoni's work was shown internationally and he travelled extensively, his identification with Italy and advocacy of a uniquely Italian cultural identity proved inspirational to Celant and, in turn, the artists he curated.

Manzoni's best-known work, Artist's Shit reprises famous avant-garde provocations such as Marcel Duchamp's presentation of a urinal as a work of art in Fountain (1917). Supposedly containing 30 grams of his own excrement, the piece was presented sealed and for sale to visitors to the gallery. Ninety cans were produced, canned and labeled in an identical manner at the cannery his father owned, mocking the practices of mass production and consumption, and satirizing the reverence usually accorded to artist's work. Importantly the audience is never able to conclusively know whether the cans actually contain the excrement without opening them and destroying the integrity of the piece. The cans were sold by the gallery at the then-market price of gold by weight in another provocative subversion of notions of value.

Luciano Fabro: Floor Tautology (1967)

Floor Tautology (1967)

Artist: Luciano Fabro

This piece consists of an area of polished floor, marked off and covered with newspapers to dry, which also protect the cleaned floor from further marks or scuffs. This placement questions notions of value through the attention paid to a usually overlooked aspect of a room (the floor and the marks made upon it), and it asks its viewers to reevaluate the processes and time that go into keeping a floor clean. It also implicitly asks that the audience invest in keeping it clean by not disturbing the newspapers.

Here the piece's significance rests in its attempt to keep the floor clean and by inviting consideration of who usually takes responsibility for this activity. The elevation of a duty associated with housework, which is often socially coded as women's work, also became a theme in Fabro's later pieces that utilized bed sheets and other fabrics. Fabro's work here could even be seen as a precursor to later Feminist artists such as Judy Chicago, who enacted a similar foregrounding of unexamined (and predominantly female) work. The piece was first shown in Germano Celant's original survey of Arte Povera, where Fabro's celebration of an ordinary task was instrumental in Celant's attempt to recalibrate the concept of fine art.

Fabro was already a well-known artist by the time he was incorporated into the Arte Povera group. His work had previously been associated with the slightly earlier practices of Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana, two important precursors to the movement and to whom Fabro provided a concrete historical link.

Giovanni Anselmo: Untitled (1968)

Untitled (1968)

Artist: Giovanni Anselmo

Giovanni Anselmo worked as a professional graphic designer, but began to experiment with a visual arts practice in his spare time. This work was then incorporated into the Arte Povera movement. 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. The sculpture therefore has to be regularly "fed" with lettuces to maintain its structure.

The requirement to maintain the sculpture through near-constant refreshment of its natural elements reflects Anselmo's interest in the impact of nature on inanimate objects. Although the head of lettuce is an almost humorous choice of a common salad vegetable, it suggests the mastery of nature over human construction exemplified by the ability of tree roots to undermine foundations or masonry over time, for example. The piece suggests the supremacy of nature, and is perhaps even proto-enviromentalist in its insistence on careful tending of the plant-based aspects of the sculpture. Its concern with balance and gravity also 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.

Useful Resources on Arte Povera

Content compiled and written by Tracee Ng

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Arte Povera Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Tracee Ng
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Jul 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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