Arte Povera individualism and experimentation

Arte Povera is the Italian term coined in 1967 by the Italian critic Germano Celant to describe a type of work in which the materials used such as soil twigs, and newspapers are deliberately chosen for their worthlessness. It was considered a reaction against the commercialisation of the art world.

Untitled 1984/87 byJannis Kounellis
Untitled 1984/87 by Jannis Kounellis

Arte Povera - "Poor Art" is the literal but misleading translation, and it has been described as art without preconceptions or limitations. It has been defined as an art of "extreme individualism and experimentation". It was an art, among other things, of commonplace or mundane materials and immaterial forces.

The earliest exhibition took place in commercial galleries, the first in September 1967 in Genoa and the second in Bologna. Celant developed revolutionary terminology. Celant insisted on ideological dissent and claimed that the artist 'now becomes a guerilla warrior', erasing the separation between art and life and identifying solely with himself.

Untitled (sails) - Jannis Kounellis
Untitled (sails) - Jannis Kounellis

The artists of Arte Povera looked for inspiration to radical Europeans such as Yves Klein, Joseph Beuys and Piero Manzoni who by 1960, had already renounced conventional painting and sculpture for whatever materials and tactics would enable to make their ideas public. Their media were often "poor" in the sense of having none of the preciousness attributed to traditional art materials.

Pino Pascali machine gun
Pino Pascali machine gun

Like young artists throughout Europe and the United States in the 1960s, the Arte Povera artists with art installations and odd constructions that defied contemporary notions about what art should be.

Michelangelo Pistoletto created an installation at MOMA (Seventeen Less One) in which the artist smashed the glass of mirrors in gilded frames. The viewer then was able to see themselves in the remaining fractured pieces of glass. Pino Pascali concocted immense jokey weapons - cannons, torpedoes, machine guns that satirised both Freudian and Cold War machismo.

Igloo with Tree by Mario Merz
Igloo with Tree by Mario Merz

Arte Provera supports the argument that art is a transient history-bound phenomenon, may be made of anything at all and must be judged by its effect rather than by its form, material or intent. The function of art is to tap the ordinary world as a source of human knowledge.


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